Philip Allen Lacovara, a former U.S. deputy solicitor general in the Justice Department, served as counsel to Watergate special prosecutors Archibald Cox and Leon Jaworski.
In prepared testimony released on the eve of his appearance Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee, former FBI director James B. Comey placed President Trump in the gunsights of a federal criminal investigation, laying out evidence sufficient for a case of obstruction of justice.
Comey proved what Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and National Security Agency Director Michael S. Rogers carefully avoided admitting in their testimony on Wednesday — that the president had specifically attempted to shut off at least a major piece of what Trump calls the “Russia thing,” the investigation into the misleading statements by fired national security adviser Michael Flynn concerning his role in dealings with the Russians. This kind of presidential intervention in a pending criminal investigation has not been seen, to my knowledge, since the days of Richard Nixon and Watergate.
Comey’s statement meticulously detailed a series of interventions by Trump soliciting his assistance in getting the criminal probe dropped. These details are red meat for a prosecutor. Presumably, the team of experienced criminal prosecutors that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has assembled will be following up on this crucial testimony, which rests on contemporaneous memorandums that Comey was sufficiently alarmed to prepare immediately after receiving the president’s requests.
That both Coats and Rogers denied that they “felt pressured” provides no comfort for the president’s position. The obstruction of justice statute prohibits not only successful interference with pending criminal investigations but also any use of “threats” to “endeavor” to obstruct an investigation. Thus, it is the attempt or objective that is criminal, and Coats and Rogers were apparently unable to deny that the president had solicited their interference in the pending FBI investigation. If Coats and Rogers did not yield to the endeavor, kudos for them, but that is no excuse for the president.
Moreover, Comey’s testimony also supplies the element of “threats.” He vividly describes a dinner with the president on Jan. 27, which the president surprisingly limited to just the two of them. The president asked Comey whether he liked his job and wanted to continue in it, even though, before the inauguration, the president had asked Comey to stay on the job, and Comey had eagerly accepted.
Leaving little doubt about the price of continued retention, the president twice, according to Comey, told him that he expected “loyalty” from Comey, just as he did from everyone else around him.