In a searing rebuke to Attorney General William Barr, hundreds of former federal prosecutors, many with service records lasting decades, have signed a letter stating that the Mueller report provided ample ammunition for obstruction of justice charges to be brought against Donald Trump. At the time of this printing, the letter, titled “Statement by Former Federal Prosecutors,” held 636 signatures, a number that had nearly doubled from 375 when its existence was announced by The Washington Post on Monday afternoon.
“We are former federal prosecutors. We served under both Republican and Democratic administrations at different levels of the federal system,” reads the letter. “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.”
The concept of a sitting president being beyond prosecution is not seated in any law or legislation. It’s a rule, a guideline set by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel which has no force or power beyond a tacit agreement within the department that it should be followed. Absent that rule, say these more than 600 former federal prosecutors, Trump would be charged with multiple felonies. Shorter version: If Donald Trump were Donald Smith from Coupon, Pennsylvania, he’d be in deep shit.
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“The Mueller report,” continues the letter, “describes several acts that satisfy all of the elements for an obstruction charge: conduct that obstructed or attempted to obstruct the truth-finding process, as to which the evidence of corrupt intent and connection to pending proceedings is overwhelming. These include: The President’s efforts to fire Mueller and to falsify evidence about that effort; The President’s efforts to limit the scope of Mueller’s investigation to exclude his conduct; and The President’s efforts to prevent witnesses from cooperating with investigators probing him and his campaign.”
The letter is remarkable for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the breadth of experience enjoyed by the signatories, as described by The Washington Post:
Among the high-profile signers are Bill Weld, a former U.S. attorney and Justice Department official in the Reagan administration who is running against Trump for the Republican presidential nomination; Donald Ayer, a former deputy attorney general in the George H.W. Bush administration; John S. Martin, a former U.S. attorney and federal judge appointed to his posts by Republican presidents; Paul Rosenzweig, who served as senior counsel to independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr; and Jeffrey Harris, who worked as the principal assistant to Rudolph W. Giuliani when he was at the Justice Department in the Reagan administration.
The list also includes more than 20 former U.S. attorneys and more than 100 people with at least 20 years of service at the Justice Department — most of them former career officials. The signers worked in every presidential administration since that of Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Of course, the letter has no immediate power to change anything. William Barr remains attorney general, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell isn’t going anywhere, and Trump’s devoted voter base would sing his MAGA song even if he urinated on them from the stage. “Nobody of any real influence to do anything about this self-evident welter of impeachable offenses has any intention of doing it,” writes Esquire blogger Charles P. Pierce, “not even if every Supreme Court justice back to John Marshall rises from the dead and signs onto this letter.”
This is all certainly and morosely true, but still, I had myself an interesting little flashback when news of the letter hit the wires on Monday.
Back in 1992, my father served as deputy under Alabama Attorney General Jimmy Evans, having served as deputy to Don Siegelman when he held the office before Evans. Dad was all-out for Bill Clinton against George H.W. Bush that year, and pulled a big rabbit out of a hat to help Clinton’s campaign.
If you were active in politics at the time, you will recall that 1992 was yet another year when the GOP was running everywhere on its so-called “law and order” reputation (the Willie Horton ad was aired by the Bush campaign in the prior presidential election). To counteract this sadly effective campaign narrative, my father reached out to all the attorneys general in the country and convinced most of them to endorse Clinton for president.
The mass endorsement from all those attorneys general became a 30-second CNN Headline News clip that aired every half-hour all day long. I remember sitting in my college dorm room with my friends gathered around to watch: My dad, standing alongside a raft of AGs, announcing their collective support for Clinton.
Even 27 years ago, the here-and-gone nature of the news cycle pushed the endorsements aside a day later. The Bush campaign sure as hell saw it, however, and afterward were unable to push their “law and order” theme without the Clinton people retorting with, “Yeah, but the AGs.”
It was a subtle piece of business, a nifty little checkmate that definitely helped Clinton win. My father was nominated and approved as a U.S. Attorney for Alabama after Clinton took office, thanks in no small part to the job he did lining up those key endorsements. He was proud of that until the day he died. I am mortally certain he would have signed this letter along with his fellow prosecutors, and would have been proud to do that, too.
I bring it up because this letter, in several ways, is in the same vein as what my father accomplished almost 30 years ago. Sure, the bullrushers on the right cry “Exonerated!” without reading the Mueller report, confident that most voters haven’t read it either. But when more than 600 federal prosecutors from both parties say flat out that they would have charged Trump based on the report, it makes a dent with the public at large.
It won’t convince the Trump brigades, but they are beyond convincing. There are a whole lot of other folks who listen when people like these prosecutors speak, and the impact of the letter is going to take a long, slow burn through the electorate between now and November of 2020.
Will this letter foment change overnight? Certainly not. It matters, however, and people will hear it if the Democrats are smart enough to run it across the sky in bright lights. Hell, it might even serve to convince House Speaker Pelosi that impeachment isn’t just some wild-eyed fantasy, but a legal necessity.
I’m just sayin’. I’ve seen it work.