Following a dramatic day of testimony by former FBI Director James Comey, where does the investigation go from here?
Former Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna says special counsel Robert Mueller will have to determine whether the president’s actions rose to the level of obstruction of justice.
“There’s evidence on both sides of that question. That’s a very high standard to meet,” McKenna said. “Trying to influence an outcome is not the same thing as having corrupt intent or ordering an outcome. It may be that the special counsel looks at Director Comey’s testimony, his memos and all the other evidence and concludes that this may have been inappropriate, but it’s not obstruction of justice. In any case, it’s now on the agenda for the special counsel.”
“I think Mueller is going to be very deliberative and careful before he reaches that conclusion; it is a high standard. And it’s important not to lose sight of that standard. Not lose sight of fact there’s a line between what’s inappropriate and what’s actually illegal,” continued McKenna.
The legal definition of obstruction of justice revolves around specific intent; the language in the federal statute also includes the language “corruptly or by threats or force.”
McKenna says special counsel Mueller’s investigation will likely examine all circumstances and interactions between the president and then-FBI Director Comey. Potential evidence to review will include the memos Comey wrote following his conversations with President Trump.
It’s also unknown whether additional evidence may also potentially exist, such as a recording of their conversations at the White House.
President Trump tweeted in May: “Comey better hope there are no tapes of their meetings.”
“Lordy, I hope there are tapes,” Comey said at one point during his two and a half hours of testimony Thursday.
Reaction to the highly anticipated hearing ranges from some members of Congress defending the president to others renewing calls for an independent commission.
House Speaker Paul Ryan blamed President Trump’s lack of government experience for not knowing the protocols for the relationship between the White House and Department of Justice and FBI.
“He is just new to this,” said Speaker Ryan on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Washington Congressman Adam Smith (D-9th District) says Comey’s testimony further confirms the threat posed by Russian interference with the election.
“This interference should deeply concern all Americans, and the need to take measures to protect our democratic system of government should span the political aisle,” Smith wrote in a statement.
Washington Senator Maria Cantwell stressed that she wants to make sure the investigation isn’t in any way shortchanged.
“What we want to make sure is that no one obstructs justice, that an investigation about Russian interference in our election takes place and no body tries to short-end that investigation, including the president of the United States, because no is above the law,” she told KING 5.
Additional quotes from Washington members of Congress who sent statements to the media following the hearing:
“We owe it to the American people to get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible. We must ensure that the president and his administration do not get in the way of the special counsel's investigation,” said Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-7th District)
“Comey’s testimony shows, more than ever, that we need an independent commission to do the work to restore our faith in democracy, ensure that we maintain integrity in our election process and prevent this from ever happening again.”
“Like so many Americans, I watched the hearing closely today. This is an important moment for our country, our search for the truth, and the very underpinnings of our democracy,” said Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash).
"I was glad to see Mr. Comey speak honestly and openly about his interactions with President Trump, despite the president’s efforts to contradict and disparage him. And I firmly believe Mr. Comey’s testimony made it crystal clear just how important it is to have not only a special prosecutor on the case, but also for all members of Congress to be absolutely committed to serving the citizens they represent and following the facts wherever they may lead."