William Barr, President Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general, spelled out exactly how he defines obstruction, and it looks a lot like what the president stands accused of in a bombshell report from BuzzFeed.
The news outlet reported late Thursday that Trump told his former attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about his contacts with Russia regarding a potential Trump Tower in Moscow.
Yet in a memo that Barr wrote to the Justice Department, he largely defended Trump from allegations that he had obstructed justice when dealing with former FBI director James Comey. Comey claimed that Trump had pressured him to go easy on Michael Flynn, the disgraced former National Security Adviser who later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. Barr said that action would not constitute obstruction.
“As things stand, obstruction laws do not criminalize just any act that can influence a ‘proceeding,’” he wrote in a document shared on Twitter by The Daily Beast’s Justin Miller. “Rather, they are concerned with acts intended to have a particular kind of impact.”
Barr then spelled out what would constitute obstruction, such as witness tampering. And he specifically said that even the president could be guilty in that case:
“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, or commits any act deliberately impairing the integrity or availability of evidence, then he, like anyone else, commits the crime of obstruction.”
Barr confirmed his position during his Senate confirmation hearings this week during this exchange with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.):
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) also asked very specifically about this form of obstruction.
“So if there was some reason to believe that the president tried to coach somebody not to testify, or testify falsely, that could be obstruction of justice?” Graham asked.
“Yes,” Barr replied. “Under an obstruction statute, yes.”
As in the memo, Barr and Graham were trying to defend Trump from obstruction charges by saying that his actions related to Comey ― including firing him ― wouldn’t be considered obstruction. But in doing so, they may have helped to spell out exactly what Trump was accused of in the BuzzFeed report.