Obstruction of Justice in the Mueller Report: A Heat Map

Source: Lawfare | April 21, 2019 | Quinta Jurecic

The Mueller report describes numerous instances in which President Trump may have obstructed justice. A few days ago, I threw together a quick spreadsheet on Twitter to assess how Special Counsel Robert Mueller seemed to assess the evidence. Unexpectedly, that spreadsheet got a fair amount of attention—so I thought I would delve back into the evidence to provide a revised visualization with a little more nuance, which will hopefully be helpful to people attempting to parse a legally and factually dense document.

The key question is how Robert Mueller and his team assessed the three elements “common to most of the relevant statutes” relating to obstruction of justice: an obstructive act, a nexus between the act and an official proceeding, and corrupt intent. As Mueller describes, the special counsel’s office “gathered evidence … relevant to the elements of those crimes and analyzed them within an elements framework—while refraining from reaching ultimate conclusions about whether crimes were committed,” because of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC)’s guidelines against the indictment of a sitting president.

The below heat map is an effort to simplify Mueller’s analysis of the evidence in relation to the three common elements of the obstruction statutes. Instances of possibly obstructive conduct are identified by their section marking in Volume II of the report. (Section A is a general overview of the Trump campaign’s response to public reporting on Russian support for Trump and does not contain an analysis.) Some sections contained varying analysis of multiple possibly obstructive acts, which are identified separately. More information about how the special counsel assessed each possible instance of obstruction is available below the chart itself, with page numbers corresponding to Volume II.

I should emphasize that the below is my interpretation of the evidence as Mueller seems to provide it—others may have different readings. (Richard Hoeg has provided a slightly different take, also available on Twitter.) My assessment rests on an assumption that Mueller is correct in his legal analysis that a president may still obstruct justice even if the act in question is taken entirely under his Article II authority. Under Attorney General Bill Barr’s reading of Article II, this heat map would look very different. I’ve also accepted at face value Mueller’s statutory argument that 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2) “states a broad, independent, and unqualified prohibition on obstruction of justice,” rather than, as Trump’s personal counsel apparently argued to Mueller, covering only “acts that would impair the integrity and availability of evidence.”

Obstruction of Justice in the Mueller Report: A Heat Map

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