Special Counsel Robert Mueller sent President Trump and his lawyers questions this week regarding collusion between the Trump Campaign and Russian officials. This represents a breakthrough in negotiations between the parties as to the scope of questioning of the President; however it is limited. The President’s answers will only be written. Given Trump’s history of contradictions this may be a safeguard against perjury. Commentators have noted that the series of questions leave out obstruction of justice.
Jonathan Turley, in an opinion piece written for The Hill, has theorized that the absence may indicate Mueller is not pursuing an obstruction charge. His supports his opinion by pointing out that obstruction of justice is a bad fit for the President’s alleged crimes, since the charge is normally applied to the obstruction of some kind of judicial proceeding. Elie Honig, a former federal prosecutor from New York, disagrees with Turley. He theorizes that if Mueller is presenting questions about collusion that must be because he is focused on specific conduct and doesn’t see “wiggle room” for the President in his answers. In his mind, the fact that Mueller isn’t giving questions about obstruction does not mean that he has given up on the charge, but rather that he is preparing for a legal battle that could go to the Supreme Court.
Regardless of Mueller’s motivation, readers would do well to remember that the crimes of obstruction and collusion are intimately involved. If it could be established that President Trump was involved in the Russian election interference, that would go a long way in establishing the mens rea required to convict the President of obstruction of justice — his corrupt influence, if you will.