Wednesday, January 24, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He confused crimes with criminal defense.

During an impromptu press conference before his trip to Switzerland, Trump once again complained about the Mueller investigation, saying that his actions since the FBI began investigating were being misinterpreted: "You fight back, oh, it’s obstruction."

It's certainly true that Trump is entitled to "fight back" against the perception that he has committed crimes, and to put up a vigorous legal defense if and when he is charged with a crime. As anyone suspected of a crime would be legally permitted to do, Trump has already "fought back" in a number of ways: he's hired lawyers, begged for money with which to pay lawyers, publicly protested his innocence, and negotiated with investigators about what he'd be willing to discuss in the absence of a subpoena. And above all, Trump is entitled to "fight back" by simply invoking his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. 

Obstruction of justice is what happens when someone "fights back" in illegal ways: for example, by tampering with or otherwise intimidating witnesses, helping to cover up crimes after the fact, or destroying evidence. Part of what makes a given action qualify as obstruction is whether the person doing it had "consciousness of guilt." This is important because many actions that would otherwise be perfectly legal, like a president firing the director of the FBI, can be illegal obstruction of justice if they're done to help criminals escape prosecution.

Why does this matter?

  • It's bad if the President of the United States has obstructed justice.