Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Mimi Rocah believes that President Donald Trump “likely” committed obstruction of justice when he complained to Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker about the Southern District of New York’s (SDNY) case against his former attorney Michael Cohen.
During a Saturday appearance on MSNBC Live, the longtime SDNY prosecutor was briefed on those Whitaker-Cohen developments by host Alex Witt.
“There is a CNN report…[that] made it clear the president did not direct Whitaker to stop the investigation,” Witt noted. “But I am curious about your reaction to this, because even if the president is not directing Whitaker, isn’t there still a level of influence that he is trying to put on the investigation? And could that not be considered obstruction?”
To which Rocah replied:
Absolutely, Alex. Whether he actually said the words, you know, ‘stop this investigation, shut it down,’ is not really important. That doesn’t dictate the results here. This to me is–just based on what we already know–a pretty clear, raw, blatant attempt at obstruction. Now whether it actually succeeded or not depends in part on what Whitaker’s response was. Did he, you know, go and talk to someone–try to or talk to someone in the Southern District based on Trump’s quote ‘lashing out’? Trump didn’t need to say the words ‘shut it down.’ If the president of the United States is expressing, you know, such extreme displeasure that it is described as ‘lashing out’ about the fact that his name, his conduct frankly, has been part of the Southern District investigation, that’s really the same thing, without saying those words.
The Haub Law Professor at Pace Law School continued with an analogy involving a non-presidential person concerned with an investigation into their behavior.
“[T]hink about it in terms of, not the president, but think about just an ordinary person out there who is being investigated for something, and his co-conspirator pleads guilty and gets charged,” Rocah said. “And if that person walked up to the prosecutor on the street who is doing the case and said, ‘I don’t like my name being mentioned, you know, this makes me mad,’ That standing alone–they don’t need to say, ‘back off’ or ‘drop the charges’ or ‘stop investigating.’ That standing alone could likely be part of an obstruction charge.”
Rocah then reiterated her broader point about the alleged illegality of Trump possibly bringing influence to bear upon Whitaker:
And here it’s the president of the United States. It is not only unethical, I think it is likely criminal.