by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
It was painful to watch Trump apologists fan out in the media to defend the president over the weekend. They have a persuasive argument to make against the obstruction probe reportedly being pursued by special counsel Robert Mueller. But it cannot be made without discussing impeachment.
It seems Team Trump has calculated that the word “impeachment” must be resisted — that utterances of it would cross a psychological barrier, normalize public consideration of it, begin to create the political conditions in which it could actually happen.
It is a bad strategic call. It is like telling your advocates: “Go explain two-plus-two. But whatever you do, don’t mention the word ‘four.’”
Here is how this works.
There is no legal obstruction case against President Trump. As we have repeatedly explained, obstruction requires prosecutors to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a public official acted corruptly in endeavoring to influence or interfere with an investigation. To establish the corrupt mental state, prosecutors must prove that the official knew what he was doing was against the law.
The president’s actions here, no matter how much one might judge them ham-handed or inappropriate, were not against the law. A president has prosecutorial discretion: He may lawfully shut down an investigation, to say nothing of merely influencing it. And the intelligence services exist to serve the president: He may lawfully terminate any intelligence-collection effort he chooses to.