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Can US President Donald Trump be Indicted for Obstruction of Justice?

Did Trump obstruct justice when he allegedly asked then FBI-director James Comey for an end to the Flynn probe? And, is it an issue for the courts or Congress to decide?

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Donald Trump's alleged obstruction of justice
From left, President Donald Trump, former White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, former FBI Director James Comey. VOA
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  • Donald Trump allegedly asked ex-FBI Director James Comey in February to stop his investigation of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn
  • According to Trump’s personal lawyer Marc Kasowitz, the president never, in form or substance, indicated Mr. Comey to stop investigating anyone
  • The case for obstruction of justice based on Comey’s testimony is far from ironclad, legal scholars say

Washington, June 10, 2017: Did President Donald Trump break the law when he allegedly asked then-FBI Director James Comey in February to stop his investigation of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn?

The question is at the heart of a legal debate a day after Comey disclosed during closely watched congressional testimony that Trump asked him to end his investigation of Flynn’s suspected ties to Russia.

In riveting detail, Comey recounted that after a February 14 counter-intelligence briefing at the White House, Trump told him that he wanted “to talk about Mike Flynn,” saying Flynn “is a good guy” and “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go.”

The allegation raised two sets of questions: Did Trump obstruct justice when he asked for an end to the Flynn probe? And, is it an issue for the courts or Congress to decide?

Marc Kasowitz, Trump’s personal lawyer, said in a statement released after the testimony that “the president never, in form or substance, directed or suggested that Mr. Comey stop investigating anyone.”

Directive

Senators were at odds over the implications of Comey’s testimony. While some Democrats suggested it pointed to obstruction of justice by Trump, Republican members of the panel seized on the fact that the president did not explicitly “direct” the former FBI director to drop the Flynn investigation.

In response to a question, Comey declined to say whether he thought Trump’s conduct amounted to obstruction of justice, saying it was up to Special Counsel Robert Mueller to make that determination.

To Trump’s critics, Comey’s revelations recalled the “Nixon tapes,” secret White House recordings that former President Richard Nixon refused to release during the Watergate scandal, ultimately leading to his resignation in 1974.

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Case not ironclad

But the case for obstruction of justice based on Comey’s testimony is far from ironclad, legal scholars say.

While Trump’s alleged interactions with Comey were seen by many as grossly out of line, the Comey testimony did not provide grounds for obstruction charges, these scholars say.

“The president is not facing a particularly compelling case of obstruction for prosecution at this time,” said Jonathan Turley, a professor at the George Washington University School of Law. “This is also not a record that would support impeachment.”

Louis Michael Seidman, a professor of constitutional law at Georgetown University, agreed that the case for charging Trump with obstruction of justice is not there, but he said that Comey’s firing after he refused to carry out the president’s wishes is “a serious matter.”

“No one outside the White House is contesting the fact that that is what happened, that director Comey is telling the truth,” Seidman said. “If he is telling the truth, that means the president has lied about it and that is a further indication he may not be fit to be president of the United States.”

Presidential history

No American president has ever been indicted while in office, though two, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, were impeached but later acquitted.

Legal scholars disagree over whether a sitting president can be prosecuted, but the White House Counsel’s office has argued against it, deciding in at least two instances not to indict a president, Seidman said.

Obstruction of justice, or interference with a legal proceeding, such as a criminal investigation, is a crime, but proving it is legally challenging. To demonstrate obstruction of justice, prosecutors must show evidence of “corrupt intent.”

“That’s a very difficult standard to meet,” Turley said.

Andy McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor and now a fellow at the conservative National Review Institute, said that as the head of the executive branch of government, Trump has “prosecutorial discretion” to end an investigation and that he “couldn’t conceivably have thought he was doing something wrong.”

“Therefore, it would be impossible to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he acted corruptly,” McCarthy said.

Though Trump’s true motivation remains unknown, “it’s perfectly plausible that the president was feeling sympathetic to his former aide who had just resigned and was facing a torrent of criticism,” Turley said.

Congressional actions

The U.S. Constitution allows Congress to remove a president from office for “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors” through impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives and a trial in the Senate.

While it is easier to bring an article of impeachment on obstruction charges, the allegation of crimes must be far more detailed than what has been alleged about Trump, Turley said.

In the Nixon case, he noted, the first article of impeachment in the House of Representatives listed obstruction of justice but included “nine separate but rather detailed crimes.”

In the Clinton impeachment case, the House of Representatives dropped an article on obstruction of justice, said Turley, who testified before the House in favor of impeachment.

With Republicans in control of Congress, the prospects of their impeachment of their party leader appear slim. But Turley said impeachment is not always brought for purely political reasons.

In Watergate, he noted that Republicans abandoned Nixon in favor of his impeachment. And today, congressional Republicans are “actively supporting the investigation of Donald Trump,” he said. (VOA)

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Deadpool Actor Karan Feels the Present Time Best to Work in the US

Karan feels things would have been different if "The Simpsons" was made in recent times.

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Deadpool 2 is going to be released this month. Pixabay

Karan Soni finds the Apu controversy “cool”. The “Deadpool” actor of Indian origin says it is a great time for people of colour in Hollywood, but he cannot say the same for the entire US, especially under Donald Trump’s presidency.

“I think it is a great time (to be people of colour) in the entertainment industry. In America in general because of Trump, I don’t know. I am very lucky to live in Los Angeles, which is a diverse place where it is great to be different,” Karan told IANS in an interview over phone from Los Angeles.

“In America in general…I know there are a lot of parts where may be it is not that great to be brown or black. So, it is good specifically in Hollywood and in general it depends where you are in America and based on who voted for whom,” he added.

Karan, who got noticed as Deadpool’s Indian cab driver Dopinder in the first part, feels the Apu controversy — which emerged as Hank Azaria voiced Apu, a character from “The Simpsons” — will initiate a positive change. Apu had to grapple with the troubling stereotype of a convenience store clerk with an exaggerated, fake Indian accent since the show’s inception.

“The controversy over the character is completely justified simply because in 2018 it is weird to have a white actor doing an Indian accent on a TV show. There are so many Indian actors who can do that part and do it better.”

He doesn’t blame the makers of the series.

“It has been on for 20-plus season. Back then I don’t know if they tried to look for Indian actors for that part or they didn’t even try.

“In a weird way, I think it is a positive controversy because people don’t want a white actor doing an Indian accent or playing an Indian character in 2018. People are upset because they want to see actors from that ethnicity to play that part instead of giving it to someone who is not.”

Karan feels things would have been different if “The Simpsons” was made in recent times.

“If the show was made this year and there was an Indian or Asian character, they would not give it to a white actor. It is cool that the controversy happened.”

Nevertheless, he is proud that the “Deadpool” makers understood the importance of having a diverse cast.

The film tells the story of an adult superhero with a twisted sense of humour. Karan’s Dopinder took relationship advice from Deadpool. His role was short, but it didn’t go unnoticed.

Based on Marvel Comics’ most unconventional anti-hero, “Deadpool” is the original story of a former Special Forces operative who turns into a mercenary and is now out to seek revenge against the man who nearly destroyed his life.

The Ryan Reynolds-starrer, brought to India by Fox Star India, released on Friday.

The "Deadpool" actor of Indian origin says it is a great time for people of colour in Hollywood, but he cannot say the same for the entire US, especially under Donald Trump's presidency.
Karan Soni has acted in Deadpool 2. Pixabay

“The makers always wanted the movie to be diverse because ‘Deadpool’ movie takes place in X-Men universe. The mutants are kind of outcast, the minorities as compared to human race. They recognised it well that the cast needs to be diverse.”

In the second part, Dopinder is doing more than just driving Deadpool around. He has joined his army and is seen doing some action too.

There was a Bollywood twist in “Deadpool” in 2016 with songs like “Mera joota hai Japani” featuring in the opening credit, and “Tumse achha kaun hai” also finding a place in the narrative. But Karan says there are “fewer Indian references” in the second chapter.

After expressing his view on increasing diversity in the West, Karan, born and brought up in Delhi, hopes to see an Indian superhero crossing boundaries and entering Hollywood “in his lifetime”.

“If we look at ‘Black Panther’, it did so well. There were a bunch of supporting black characters in the movies for years and then it took a long time, but finally they did make that.

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“I am just happy to be part of the initial steps. I hope in my lifetime we will get to see an Indian superhero for sure,” said Karan, who studied at the University of South California, and soon found a way into showbiz.

He has featured in projects like “Safety Not Guaranteed”, “The Neighbors”, “Goosebumps” and “Ghostbusters”. What’s next?

“From being in ‘Deadpool’ to then going to be an Angel with ‘Harry Potter’ star Daniel Radcliffe in ‘Miracle Workers’ to then getting stuck in a cage with Sharon Stone in ‘Corporate Animals’ — there are different kinds of things.” (BollywoodCountry)