December 1, 2017

Rachel Maddow talked about a New York Times story that broke just as her show went on the air last night: Trump pressured top Senate Republicans to "wrap up" the Senate investigation into his Russia connections.

"We know the president -- it's been reported the president is under scrutiny for obstruction of justice with regard to the FBI investigation into Russia matters and the president reportedly pressuring James Comey, then the director of the FBI to lay off the Flynn investigation," she said.

"The president has reportedly been, at least it's been reported, is under scrutiny by the Mueller investigation about whether his firing of James Comey represented obstruction of justice in that regard. If that Times reporting is true, and they have named sources and the president was trying to get a congressional investigation into Russia to be called off, to be ended prematurely. Is that potentially obstruction of justice?" she asked former Alabama U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance.

"It's potentially obstruction of justice," Vance said. "It may be even more interesting to the Mueller team because it would be evidence that they could use to demonstrate what the president's state of mind was, and if he were to try to excuse the Comey firing as based on Comey's conduct of the Clinton investigation, this continued pressure on senators to terminate the Russia investigation would also be helpful to demonstrate that the Comey firing had the intention of obstructing the investigation."

Maddow asked Vance if Trump's ignorance of the legal norms here is a defense.

"If the president, you know, had never read a political thriller, had never watched a movie about corruption and had never ever had reason to learn about how obstruction of justice works or how you illegally impede an investigation, and he thought it was okay for him to direct the senate to stop an investigation, would his ignorance on that subject, would that be a defense?"

"Right, if he lived in a bubble despite his experience in life. There is an old saying that young lawyers learn in law school: Ignorance of the law is no defense," she replied.

"Would that apply here? I think that there are a number of factors that would work against the use of ignorance as a defense -- in addition to the fact it's unlikely he was sheerly likely or sheerly ignorant of the president shutting down an investigation. I think that there are plenty of circumstantial factors and the pushback for doing it would make the ignorance defense a very weak one and there is also some suggestion -- and we've heard this before, he was a neophyte, he didn't understand how these sorts of matters preceded. This isn't the type of defense that tends to hold up in a corruption case. It's tried a lot and fails a lot."

Maddow noted there is "some pretty provocative characterization in the Times piece, how the senators who the president approached here felt about him approaching him. How they received this pressure from him."

"I just want to read you two quick sections from the article," Maddow said. "Quote, 'Mr. Trump called lawmakers with requests they push Senator Burr to finish the inquiry,' according to a Republican senator, to discuss contact with the president. This senator says he was alarmed upon hearing word of the president's pleas and said Mr. Trump's request to the other senators was clear. They should urge Mr. Burr to bring the Russia investigation to a close. later in the article, the Times says this, one Republican close to Mr. Burr said that Mr. Trump had been very forceful in his intervention with Senator Burr, telling Burr to stop the investigation. Those -- that reaction by those senators saying that they found this to be alarming, they found this to be a very forceful intervention, they were concerned by this. How did that factor into this as potential legal matter?"

"This is really damaging evidence, right? This means that the president tried directly with Senator Burr, wasn't successful and proceeded to go to everyone around him in an effort to put pressure on him and it would be helpful evidence," Vance said.

"But Rachel, one thing we have to remember is, it's unlikely we'll ever see a Bob Mueller indictment of a sitting president. It's more likely we'll see this evidence, this information packaged into some sort of report that goes to the House that will then be used by folks in the house to gauge whether or not impeachment is appropriate. How that all plays into the political specter, as opposed to in front of a judge in a courtroom I think is a very interesting question and the evidence may not have the impact on the Hill that it would have in a courtroom."

In other words, it's up to us to flip the House. Stay focused.

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