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Politics & Government

Mueller Report: Law Professor On Prosecuting An Obstruction Of Justice Case


And now we turn to Ryan Goodman. He teaches law at New York University and is editor-in-chief of the blog Just Security. Thanks very much for being with us.

RYAN GOODMAN: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: I gather there's no real legal definition of collusion. And again, the special counsel found that nobody on the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with Russia, but you're not so quick to lay that aside, are you?

GOODMAN: That's right. It's true that the special counsel found that the investigation did not establish sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was a crime of conspiracy. There's one major caveat I suppose I would put to that, which is that the special counsel also said, given the enormity of people who were lying to us, that materially impaired the investigation. So it's a counterfactual. But the question might be, what might they have come up with?

SIMON: Lying to investigators is a crime in and of itself, isn't it?

GOODMAN: It is, and the fact that several people did it is quite extraordinary. And then on top of that - if you layer on top of that all the obstruction, which includes kinds of assurances given to Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen where they thought they would either maybe get a pardon or the investigation would be shut down, that's another way in which it forced - at least in the case of Manafort - somebody who could've been a star witness not to cooperate.

SIMON: How do you feel, then, about the special counsel's decision to leave that question open - whether or not the President obstructed justice? You just cited some facts that possibly contradict that. You know, we know that he leaned on the FBI Director James Comey to go easy on Michael Flynn, that he told the White House counsel to get rid of Mueller.

GOODMAN: That's right. There are a series of these incidents. He basically directs Don McGahn to write a false statement about having told McGahn to get Mueller fired. So that - I think that for some people like myself and I think for many listeners, they might realize that's, like, not even just, like, destroying evidence, but it's creating evidence. So I think there are a number of these that, in the aggregate, add up to a very serious case, I would say, of obstruction. Some of them individually crossed that line, and it seems that they would have crossed that line by Mueller himself but for the fact that he was operating under the Justice Department's position that a sitting president cannot be indicted.

SIMON: So could you prosecute an obstruction of justice case if it failed you?

GOODMAN: I think that this would be a pretty straightforward case. Another way I've thought of it is, any American but for the president of the United States would be indicted for these actions. If these were all the actions that they were alleged to have committed, I'm pretty sure that's also what Mueller is sending us as a signal.

SIMON: Ryan Goodman, law professor and editor of Just Security. Thanks so much for being with us.

GOODMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.