The letter was signed by hundreds of former prosecutors, including those from both Democratic and Republican administrations

By Adam Carlson
May 07, 2019 09:30 AM
President Donald Trump
Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty

In an open letter published this week with the the help of an executive branch watchdog group, hundreds of former federal prosecutors said they believe President Donald Trump would have been charged with obstruction of justice in Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation were he not the nation’s top elected official.

The Monday letter — which has been signed by more than 600 people describing themselves as former government prosecutors — is succinct.

“Each of us believes that the conduct of President Trump described in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report would, in the case of any other person not covered by the Office of Legal Counsel policy against indicting a sitting President, result in multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice,” they write.

The letter continues: “We emphasize that these are not matters of close professional judgment. Of course, there are potential defenses or arguments that could be raised in response to an indictment of the nature we describe here. In our system, every accused person is presumed innocent and it is always the government’s burden to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

“But, to look at these facts and say that a prosecutor could not probably sustain a conviction for obstruction of justice  …  runs counter to logic and our experience.”

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(The government’s official position, as detailed in the October 2000 legal memo referenced above, is that impeaching a president while in office is the only proper way to resolve suspicions of wrongdoing — rather than criminal charges, which would irreparably harm his ability to govern.)

In particular, the letter narrows in on three parts of Trump’s legally dubious behavior surrounding the Mueller probe, as detailed in Mueller’s report, released to the public last month.

The letter was prepared by Project Democracy, a nonpartisan nonprofit that monitors the executive branch and the presidency for what it describes as behavior corrosive to the democratic system.

President Donald Trump
Evan Vucci/AP/REX/Shutterstock

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According to Mueller, Trump tried to have him fired as special counsel and tried to control the ultimate scope of the investigation “to prevent further investigative scrutiny of the President’s and his campaign’s conduct.”

Monday’s letter was signed by prosecutors from both Democratic and Republican administrations, including former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, who is seeking to challenge Trump for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000.

“I hope the letter will be persuasive evidence that Attorney General [William] Barr’s apparent legal theory is incorrect,” Weld told the Washington Post.

Mueller was named as special counsel in May 2017 to investigate Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election in order to help Trump be elected. Mueller did not find that anyone on Trump’s team coordinated or conspired in this interference, but he did document Trump’s extensive efforts to control Mueller’s investigation.

Still, Mueller declined to determine whether such conduct was criminal — citing the underlying legal complexities. He implied Congress would be better suited to resolve the matter.

Attorney General Barr and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, found that Trump had not committed obstruction of justice. Leading Democrats criticized this as providing purely partisan cover for the president.

“The government has to prove things beyond a reasonable doubt,” Barr told Congress during testimony last week, according to the Post. “And, as the report shows, there’s ample evidence on the other side of the ledger that would prevent the government from establishing that.”

Barr’s defense of his decision hinges in part on more esoteric legal questions of Trump’s intent while trying to limit Mueller’s work. His assertions have been debated.

For his part, Trump has alternately dismissed Mueller’s work as a “witch hunt” and as a “total exoneration” of him.

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