McQuade: 'Multiple crimes' by Trump in obstructing justice

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
Former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan Barbara McQuade speaks at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the Mueller Report on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, June 10, 2019.

Washington — Former Detroit U.S. Attorney Barb McQuade told lawmakers that President Donald Trump's conduct as described in special counsel Robert Mueller's report "constitutes multiple crimes of obstruction of justice."

"It's supported by evidence of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and I'm confident that if anyone other than a sitting president committed this conduct that person would be charged with crimes," McQuade said in testimony before Congress Monday. 

"Why does that matter? The obstruction described in the report created a risk to our national security. It was designed to prevent investigators from learning all of the facts about an attack on our country by a hostile foreign adversary."

McQuade, who oversaw public corruption cases while in office, testified Monday before the House Judiciary Committee in the first hearing focusing on the findings of Mueller's report — specifically highlighting the section on obstruction of justice.

McQuade, now a professor at the University of Michigan School of Law, has opined extensively on the Mueller investigation.

She was appointed by President Barack Obama as the top federal prosecutor for the Eastern District of Michigan from 2010 to March 2017, resigning after Trump took office. 

She testified Monday alongside former White House counsel John Dean, who helped bring about the end of Richard Nixon's presidency. 

Dean, a Trump critic, told lawmakers he sees “remarkable parallels” in the Mueller report that echo Watergate, particularly instances related to obstruction of justice and suggesting pardons for potential witnesses.

"In many ways, the Mueller report is to President Trump what the so-called Watergate Road map ... was to President Richard Nixon," he said, referring to the Watergate grand jury report.

"Put another way, special counsel Mueller has provided this committee with a road map." 

Republican committee members didn't ask much about the Mueller report Monday, with some suggesting the panel should instead be examining Russian election interference.

Others questioned why Democrats had brought in Dean to speak on the Russia probe, as Dean pleaded guilty to obstructing justice for his role in the Watergate ordeal and served several months in federal prison.

Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia referred to Dean as "the godfather" of how to influence a political campaign using official resources.

“This committee is now hearing from the '70s, and they want their star witness back,” said Collins, the panel's top Republican. 

GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Trump ally from Florida, called Dean the "ghost of Christmas past" and accused him of making a “cottage industry” of accusing other presidents of acting like Nixon.

“Not all presidents, now. But a few of those who do act like him,” Dean said.

Mueller's report detailed Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election in Trump’s favor and 10 instances when the president potentially obstructed the investigation.

Ohio Rep. Steve Chabot, a Republican, asked Dean why he publicly alleged that the Trump campaign had colluded with Russia before the release of the Mueller report.

"I don't think I quite said 'collusion.' I think there is evidence, incidentally, in the report of collusion," Dean replied.  

Ahead of the hearing, Trump took another swipe at Mueller, whose report he has wrongly said "exonerated" him. 

"For two years all the Democrats talked about was the Mueller Report, because they knew that it was loaded up with 13 Angry Democrat Trump Haters, later increased to 18. But despite the bias, when the Report came out, the findings were No Collusion and facts that led to ....No Obstruction," Trump tweeted Monday. 

"The Dems were devastated - after all this time and money spent ($40,000,000), the Mueller Report was a disaster for them. But they want a Redo, or Do Over. They are even bringing in @CNN sleazebag attorney John Dean. Sorry, no Do Overs - Go back to work!"

John Malcolm, vice president of the Institute for Constitutional Government at the Heritage Foundation, defended Trump, noting there's no evidence of activities associated with attempts at obstruction, for example, threatening or bribing witnesses or destroyed evidence in relation to the probe.

“Here the president provided over a million pages of documents, allowed his staff to be interviewed and submitted written answers to questions,” Malcolm said.

“These are not the actions of someone attempting to obstruct an ongoing investigation despite being clearly maddened by its existence.”

McQuade opined that the most important finding by Mueller was that Russia interfered in the 2016 election in "sweeping and systematic fashion." 

She said in written testimony that obstruction is one of the "most serious" matters that prosecutors investigate because it "conceals the truth" and should not be dismissed as a mere "process" crime.

She stressed that the crime of obstruction of justice can include attempts to obstruct and does not require proof of an underlying crime. 

McQuade last month signed onto a statement with over 1,000 other former federal prosecutors saying Trump would be charged with crimes for obstruction of justice were he not in the White House.  

She said she endorsed the document "to make clear what Mueller’s nuance may have obscured: Trump’s conduct violated the obstruction of justice statute, and he would be charged with crimes if he were not president."

The prosecutors in their statement noted that Trump is covered by a policy imposed by the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel against indicting a sitting president. But for that policy, the details in Mueller's report would result in "multiple" felony charges for obstruction of justice, the prosecutors said.

McQuade noted that in four of the 10 episodes described by Mueller, he found "substantial" evidence meeting all three elements of obstruction of justice.

McQuade on Monday specifically cited Trump's alleged efforts to fire Mueller through former White House counsel Donald McGahn and to deny public reports about that order, as well as Trump's efforts to persuade then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reverse his decision to recuse himself from the Russia probe.

"President Trump asked various intermediaries, including Corey Lewandowski, who was at that point a private citizen, to convey a message to Mr. Sessions, but ultimately, none of them did it," McQuade said.

"But for the acts of those associates, Mr. Trump would have limited the investigation to future elections that would have prevented Mr. Muller from learning the facts about Russian interference in the 2016 election — essential to our national security."

Asked whether a Justice Department official may "unilaterally" undo a recusal, McQuade said no. 

"There is no such thing as ‘un-recusal,’” she said. “He’s tainted and unable to handle this case. To unrecuse oneself would be to ignore the taint and commit an unethical act.”

Another former federal prosecutor who testified, Joyce White Vance of Alabama, said the report convinced her that Trump committed obstruction of justice in the way he interfered with and attempted to curtail the probe. 

“I would be willing to personally indict the case," Vance said Monday. "And win on appeal.”

McQuade has suggested that Mueller investigated to preserve evidence for Congress to consider the president's misconduct and potentially take up impeachment. 

Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-New York, asked if McQuade agreed with Mueller's conclusion that the Constitution permits Congress to prohibit a president's corrupt exercise of the powers of his office.

"I think the ultimate conclusion is that the president does not have just the power to execute the laws, but the Constitution requires that he faithfully execute the laws, and that means that he cannot act corruptly," McQuade replied.

"He must always act in the best interest of the country, and so, yes, I do agree on that theory."