Comey memo leaves ‘a lot of smoke pointing in the direction of obstruction of justice’

The discovery of a memo by former FBI Director James Comey “certainly would be further indication that there may have been some criminal conduct,” said law professor Wendy Parmet. Photo via Flickr.

Tuesday evening, The New York Times reported that President Donald J. Trump asked then-FBI Director James B. Comey in a meeting earlier this year to shut down the federal investigation into Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn. This is according to a memo Comey wrote shortly after the meeting. The White House has denied the memo’s description of events. The New York Times reported that it hasn’t seen the memo, but one of Comey’s associates read parts of it to a reporter.

“The documentation of Mr. Trump’s request is the clearest evidence that the president has tried to directly influence the Justice Department and FBI investigation into links between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia,” The Times reported.

Indeed, according to Wendy Parmet, Northeastern’s Matthews Distinguished Professor of Law, if the content of the memo is confirmed, “it certainly would be further indication that there may have been some criminal conduct.”

“There’s certainly a lot of smoke pointing in the direction of obstruction of justice,” said Parmet, a constitutional law expert.

The story continued to develop Tuesday evening, as the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee reportedly demanded the FBI turn over all “memoranda, notes, summaries, and recordings” of Trump and Comey’s discussions. We asked Parmet about some of the implications of the situation.

If what’s written in Comey’s memo is true, would President Trump be guilty of obstruction of justice?

If this is verified, it certainly would be further indication that there may have been some criminal conduct, though a lot more needs to be known at this point. If the leaks prove to be true, however, and the memo can be confirmed, it strengthens the suspicion that there may have been obstruction of justice.

On other hand, it’s not surprising that the head of the FBI would keep careful notes and records of all conversations—particularly of all conversations, if they happened, that verged toward the criminal or problematic. If the head of the FBI isn’t going to keep careful notes, and recognize that “this might be evidence down the road,” who is going to do that?

Overall, though, if the story is true, and there is such a memo, and it is produced, and James Comey testifies to it, there is certainly a lot of indication for at the very least, an investigation of obstruction of justice.

If that were the case, what should the recourse be?

At end of day, impeachment should be the recourse if the president commits a high crime.

The interesting speculation here, though, is: How much evidence of criminal wrongdoing does it take to trigger a serious congressional discussion of impeachment? It’s not something that should be undertaken lightly.

I think we need an investigation that can have the credibility of being truly bipartisan, of being run by somebody who can actually have both the authority of subpoena power, but also the independence to investigate fully.

We need politicians to not just keep talking to their base, but who are willing to truly address the public in a way that demonstrates that they put the Constitution and the country ahead of party.