Those of us who lived through Richard Nixon and Watergate should all remember that it wasn't the crime that led to the president's pre-impeachment resignation, it was the cover up. Now, the man who Nixon once encouraged to run for president, Donald Trump, may find himself in a similar circumstance.
Former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, is considered one of the top legal minds in the country. And on Sunday morning he told host George Stephanopoulos on This Week that the evidence he has seen so far "there's absolutely evidence to begin a case" of obstruction of justice against Trump.
Stephanopoulos noted that Trump's lawyer, Jay Sekulow, has said that there is nothing to the charges that Trump was attempting to obstruct justice in his conversation with Comey. Bharara didn't hesitate before replying.
"I think it’s very important for all sorts of armchair speculators in the law to be clear that no one knows right now whether there’s a provable case of obstruction," he told Stephanopoulos. But he didn't stop there. He continued, "It’s also true, I think, from based on what I see as a third party and out of government, that there’s no basis to say there’s no obstruction."
He went on to say that he thinks the point made by some Trump supporters that the president has a legal authority to fire someone like the FBI director "is a little silly to me."
"The fact that you have authority to remove someone from office doesn't automatically immunize that act from criminal responsibility," he added.
Bharara, like Comey, has a curious history with Trump. After first asking him to stay on in his job, Trump changed his mind and demanded Bharara's resignation. But Bharara refused, forcing Trump to fire him. In April he revealed that he made Trump fire him in order to have it on the record that the man-who-would-be-dictator had changed his mind, "particularly given what my office's jurisdiction is." The attorney for the Southern District of New York oversees Wall Street and Trump Tower.
Trump's defenders have it all wrong, as Bharara hinted. Trump and his cronies keep demanding concrete evidence, and insisting that since nobody has offered any to their satisfaction, there couldn't have been any crimes committed, and therefore no investigation is needed. That's backwards. The investigation develops the evidence; the evidence doesn't drive the investigation. And the firing of Comey after months of praise from Trump is questionable enough to open a probe, as Bharara indicated.
Trump is finding out, after years of being accountable to no one, that everything the president does is scrutinized and dissected. Given the way he attacked President Obama that should have been clear to him. But it's obvious that his feelings about it are different when he is the subject of the scrutiny.