KINSELLA: What is obstruction of justice?
July 27, 2019
July 27, 2019 9:31 PM EDT
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, alongside U.S. President Donald Trump on October 11, 2017SAUL LOEB / AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Law class, we are in session.
Today’s lesson: what’s obstruction of justice?
It’s a topic that has been discussed a lot, lately, on both sides of the border. Special Counsel Robert Mueller talked about it when appearing before Congress this week.
And, up here in the Canada, the SNC-Lavalin scandal is back in the news — because Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has welcomed back one of the big names associated with it. And that scandal was really all about whether Trudeau and his senior advisors may have crossed a legal line when they intervened in the corruption trial of SNC-Lavalin.
Gerald Butts, former principal secretary to Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, testifies before the House of Commons justice committee on Parliament Hill on March 6, 2019 in Ottawa. (Photo by Dave Chan/Getty Images)
So what is obstruction of justice, class? Anyone?
The Criminal Code of Canada says it happens when anyone “wilfully attempts in any manner … to obstruct, pervert or defeat the course of justice.”
Let’s take a look at that, class. What does “wilful” mean? Our highest court, the Supremes, say it means the criminal act can’t be accidental. Wilful means you know what you’re doing with “substantial certainty.”
So, in the LavScam scandal, we know that eleven senior Liberals — including Trudeau — tried to interfere with SNC-Lavalin’s criminal trial at least 22 times over a four-month period. They didn’t stumble into it: they tried 22 times. Sound wilful? Anyone?
But what about that other part, the part about “obstruct, pervert or defeat the course of justice”? When does that happen? And is the “perversion” X-rated?
Pay attention, class. Quit kidding around.
The Supremes have dealt with this one, too. They have ruled the mental element is important, here — the intent. But, critically, they’ve also said the crime doesn’t need to be successful to be a crime.
The wrongdoer just needs to try, class. In a case they handed down a few years back, the high court said the crime happens when there’s “proof of an attempt without the necessity of success.”
Meaning, even unsuccessfully trying pervert the course of justice — in LavScam, a criminal prosecution that was supposed to remain free of any political considerations — might be a crime, class.
We emphasize, at this point in the lesson, that no one in Ottawa has been charged, yet. To be sure: a lot of the Grits have lawyered up. But we actually don’t even know if the Mounties are investigating any of them.
So, interestingly, this “attempt” to obstruct justice stuff came up in Washington this week. Looking (and occasionally sounding) like he was getting a root canal, Special Counsel Robert Mueller talked about whether Donald Trump, who allegedly knows a thing or two about perversion, in fact attempted to “pervert” justice.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller speaks on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, at the U.S. Justice Department in Washington, D.C., on May 29, 2019. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP)
Check out, class, this revealing exchange between Mueller and one of his oleaginous Republican inquisitors, Colorado’s Ken Buck.
BUCK: Okay, but the could you charge the president with a crime after he left office?
BUCK: You believe that he committed — you could charge the president of the United States with obstruction of justice after he left office?
Not a man of many words, that Bob Mueller. But — contrary to what the President’s GOP acolytes may claim — it sure sounds like the Special Counsel thinks Donald Trump obstructed justice, doesn’t it? Yep.
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The American definition of obstruction is pretty similar to Canada’s, class. Down there, it’s defined as interfering with “the orderly administration of justice.” And, like in Canada, you don’t have to actually to do it. You just have to try.
And that, class, is what should make Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump a little nervous. SNC-Lavalin’s criminal trial is underway — Trudeau and Co. couldn’t stop it.
And Donald Trump and his cabal couldn’t stop Robert Mueller’s probe, however much he tried. Mueller got to file his report.
But the question still lingers, class, like a smell you can’t get out of a rug:
Even if they didn’t succeed, did Messrs. Trump and Trudeau try? Anyone?