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Reports Suggest Comey’s Firing Could Be an Obstruction of Justice in Russia Investigation

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If President Donald Trump orchestrated the decision to fire the Director of the FBI to subvert or undermine the integrity of investigations into the Trump campaign’s possible coordination with Russia, it may amount to an obstruction of justice. If Attorney General Jeff Sessions and others knowingly participated in such a plan, they too would be in legal and political jeopardy. Although the Republican-controlled Congress may never bring impeachment proceedings against the president or others, we may still reach a state of affairs amounting to a constitutional crisis if such a plan took place, it comes to light, and the public believes it. Unfortunately for our republic, we may also reach such a state if only the third occurs (the public believes it). But what’s the actual evidence so far?

There are several indicators that may suggest that the real rationale for the president’s decision to fire Comey was not due to the president’s stated reasons, but instead due to the negative political exposure if not legal liability created by the ongoing FBI investigations. Here, I simply want to highlight what some news reports are saying about what actually took place in the president’s decision making, sourced in part to anonymous officials. Key so far are important lines in an article in Politico and two pieces in the New York Times:

1. “But several other people familiar with the events said Trump had talked about the firing for over a week, and the letters were written to give him rationale to fire Comey.”
– Josh Dawsey, Behind Comey’s firing: An enraged Trump, fuming about Russia, Politico

2. “While shock dominated much of the FBI and the White House, the mood was more elated at Roger Stone’s house in Florida. Several Stone allies and friends said Stone, who has been frequently mentioned in the investigation, encouraged the president to fire Comey in conversations in recent weeks.”
– Josh Dawsey, Behind Comey’s firing: An enraged Trump, fuming about Russia

3. “Senior White House and Justice Department officials had been working on building a case against Mr. Comey since at least last week, according to administration officials. Mr. Sessions had been charged with coming up with reasons to fire him, the officials said.”
– Michael S. Schmidt, Building the Case in Updates and Reactions to F.B.I. Director Comey’s Firing, New York Times

4. “Mr. Trump ‘saw an opening’ to fire Mr. Comey after the testimony, a White House official said. Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, argued against it, delaying — but not overruling — the decision.”
– Michael D. Shear and Matt Apuzzo, F.B.I. Director James Comey Is Fired by Trump, New York Times

Corroborating Dawsey’s reporting on Roger Stone (#2 above), CNN‘s Gloria Borger is now reporting: “Roger Stone was among those who recommended President Trump fire Comey, according to a source familiar with the conversation. Stone, who himself is being scrutinized by the FBI as part of its Russia investigation, spoke to Trump after Comey appeared at a hearing last week on Capitol Hill, according to the source.”

President Trump is refuting that report:

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About the Author

is co-editor-in-chief of Just Security. Ryan is the Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Professor of Law at New York University School of Law. He served as Special Counsel to the General Counsel of the Department of Defense (2015-16). You can follow him on Twitter (@rgoodlaw).