Paul M. Collins, Director of Legal Studies, says former FBI director James Comey’s testimony before Congress last week has cleared President Donald J. Trump of involvement with Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, but it may have also provided evidence that the president obstructed justice in the investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s activities.
UMass legal scholar says James Comey gave evidence to pursue obstruction of justice charge against President Donald Trump
AMHERST - Legal scholar Paul Collins thinks former FBI Director James Comey's testimony Thursday did two things.
It cleared President Donald Trump of involvement with Russia's meddling in the 2016 election, he said, but provided evidence of Trump's potential interference in the investigation of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
Collins, a University of Massachusetts professor of legal studies, said Comey's testimony raises the question of obstruction of justice, something that Special Counsel Robert Mueller will have to pursue.
Collins said Comey gave Mueller "a tremendous amount of information. ... He gave Mueller (that) on a platter."
With the president essentially cleared of Russian involvement, "maybe we can move from that," Collins said.
Comey, who Trump fired last month, publicly testified Thursday before the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee on his interactions with the president.
In his opening statement, Comey somberly accused the Trump administration of spreading "lies, plain and simple" in the aftermath of his abrupt ouster, declaring that the administration "chose to defame me and, more importantly, the FBI" by claiming the bureau was in disorder. Comey said he kept notes on his conversations with Trump because he feared the president might lie about them.
Flynn was fired after less than a month because of revelations that he misled Vice President Mike Pence about his communications with Russia's ambassador to the United States. The FBI subsequently launched an investigation.
Comey testified that the president said to him in a private meeting Feb. 14, "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go."
Collins said Comey's testimony opens two avenues for officials in Washington to pursue.
"Does this rise to an impeachable offense? That's for Congress to decide," Collins said. He doubts the Republican-controlled Congress would pursue that.
"The other angle is does this rise to the level of obstruction of justice," Collins said. "There is evidence that it may."
At the same time, he said, "that's difficult to prove. Was there intent to interfere with the investigation?" He said he expects the focus will be on the word "hope."
Republicans and Trump backers will stress that Trump was expressing an opinion, not directing Comey to end the Flynn investigation, Collins said. But the other side could ask why did he clear other people out of the room to speak directly to Comey and then fire him when the investigation continued.
Collins wonders how Trump supporters will be able to reconcile the president's insistence that what Comey said about Trump's involvement in Russia is true but that what Comey said about Flynn is a lie.
"Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication ... and WOW, Comey is a leaker," Trump wrote in a Tweet Friday morning.
"It could be monumental if there is obstruction of justice," Collins said. "That is a federal crime. It is a criminal act. It is an impeachable act."
He said it could lead to a criminal trial or end in resignation, similar to Richard Nixon, resigned in 1974 before impeachment proceedings began for his involvement in the Watergate scandal.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
- Faculty News