Just because the president does it doesn’t make it legal, President Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general says.
William Barr, Trump’s nominee for attorney, earlier this week agreed during sworn testimony in the Senate that a president who persuades someone to commit perjury is committing the crime of obstruction of justice.
“Any person who persuades another to” commit perjury has obstructed justice, Barr told Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., on Tuesday at his confirmation hearing at the Judiciary Committee.
Barr’s televised admission of that otherwise uncontroversial fact rocketed around social media Thursday night after a bombshell BuzzFeed report.
BuzzFeed, citing law-enforcement sources, said Trump directed his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen in 2017 to lie to Congress in sworn statements about details of an aborted effort to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, Russia.
Cohen in November pleaded guilty in federal court in Manhattan to falsely telling Congress that Trump’s personal involvement was significantly less than he had first claimed, and that the project continued much longer into the 2016 presidential campaign year than he had initially claimed.
Observers quickly noted Thursday night that Klobuchar had gotten Barr to agree that what Trump had allegedly done as reported two days later is a crime that leaves him at risk of impeachment and possible criminal prosecution.
Trump’s current lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, attacked the BuzzFeed report by incorrectly attributing it to Cohen.
“If you believe Cohen I can get you a great deal on the Brooklyn Bridge,” Giuliani said.
But if Barr is confirmed as attorney general, as is considered likely, he will be overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller and other federal prosecutors. And those officials would be the ones investigating whether Trump obstructed justice by directing Cohen to lie to Congress.
Mueller is the prosecutor who charged Cohen with lying to Congress. Cohen is due in March to begin serving a three-year prison sentence for that and other crimes, including ones related to hush-money payments made to purported ex-paramours of Trump.
BuzzFeed reported Thursday: “The special counsel’s office learned about Trump’s directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents.”
“Cohen then acknowledged those instructions during his interviews with that office,” the report said.
Klobuchar, in her questioning of Barr, focused on a memo that he sent — unsolicited — to the Justice Department last year.
She also asked him a series of hypothetical questions related to conduct that Trump is suspected by some of committing.
In that memo, Barr argued that Mueller should not be allowed to demand that Trump be questioned by the special counsel’s office about “alleged obstruction” related to his 2017 firing of FBI Director James Comey, who has said Trump asked him to “let … go” of a probe into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russians.
Barr argued that pursuing an obstruction case against a president for exercising a power — terminating a subordinate — that he has under the Constitution.
But in that same memo, Barr wrote: “Obviously, the President and any other official can commit obstruction in this classic sense of sabotaging a proceeding’s truth-finding function.”
“Thus, for example, if a President knowingly destroys or alters evidence, suborns perjury, or induces a witness to change testimony,” Barr wrote.
Klobuchar zeroed in on this line during her questioning on Tuesday.
Klobuchar: In your memo, you talked about the Comey decision and you talk about obstruction of justice, and you already went over that, which I appreciate. You wrote on page 1 that a president persuading a person to commit perjury would be obstruction, is that right?
Barr: That, Yes. Or, any, any, well, you know, any person who persuades another to — yeah.
Klobuchar: OK. You also said that a president or any person convincing a witness to change testimony would be obstruction. Is that right?
Klobuchar. OK. And on page 2 you said that a president deliberately impairing the integrity or availability of evidence would be an [obstruction]. Is that correct?
And so, what if a president told a witness not to cooperate with an investigation or hinted at a pardon?
Barr: You know, I’d have to know the specific — I’d have to know the specific facts.
Klobuchar: OK. And you wrote on page 1 that if a president knowingly destroys or alters evidence, that would be obstruction.
Klobuchar: OK. So, what if a president drafted a misleading statement to conceal the purpose of a meeting? Would that be obstruction?
Barr: Again, you know, I’d have, I’d have to know the, I’d have to know the specifics.
source : CNBC