Understanding The Federal Crimes Addressed in The Mueller Report
The Mueller report was released to the public on April 18, and left a number of Americans completely baffled as to whether the President and those who worked on his campaign committed any federal crimes, including obstruction of justice. Below, we discuss some of the federal crimes and potential charges addressed in the report:
What The Report Examined
The report focuses on president Donald Trump’s actions before and after the 2016 presidential election. Specifically, it considers two main questions: whether President Trump colluded with Russia to help get elected, and whether he interfered with an investigation into this potential collusion, i.e. whether he obstructed justice.
What Was Found: The Difference Between Obstruction of Justice & Attempted Obstruction of Justice
While Mueller did not definitively conclude that a criminal conspiracy was committed, he did provide evidence that the Trump campaign sought assistance from Russia, while also leaving the decision concerning obstruction of justice to the Attorney General. In this endeavor, the report distinguishes between obstruction of justice and attempting to obstruct justice. In other words, it indicates that the available evidence does not necessarily meet the bar in terms of what is required to prove the federal crime of obstruction of justice, specifically, but does point the finger at attempts to do so.
Specifically, the federal crime of obstruction of justice mandates the prosecutors prove “corrupt intent.” While the report does not indicate the prosecutors could prove this, it does indicate the president engaged in wrongful activity, such as ordering the White House Council to fire Robert Mueller. In other words, Trump may have been found guilty of obstruction of justice if those who worked for him had actually carried out some of his orders; some of which they did not.
In that endeavor, the report analysis indicates that, Instead, President Trump may have engaged in an attempt to obstruct justice; i.e. his actions more likely amounted to an abuse of his role as the president.
What Is an “Attempt” Crime?
Can a criminal defendant even be charged with attempted obstruction of justice? Under the general principles of criminal law, in order to charge defendants with an attempted crime, a prosecutor must typically prove that the individual not only intended to commit defense, but they also took “an overt act that constitutes a substantial step” towards committing that offense. Still, prosecutors do not need to prove that justice was actually obstructed in order to prove attempt crimes.
Ultimately, experts have deduced from the report that while there were expectations of benefits involved on both sides between Russia and the Trump campaign, there was no smoking gun memo that established that members of the Trump campaign specifically coordinated with Russia in order to interfere with the election. Mueller also seems to imply that the criminal justice system may not be the most appropriate tool with which to pursue justice in this case. Still, Mueller does point out that there is no conclusive determination that no criminal conduct occurred. Finally, Mueller also goes into elaborate detail as to why a president cannot be shielded from being charged with a federal crime, including obstruction of justice.
Contact Our Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys with Any Questions
If you have been charged with a federal crime, contact our New City criminal defense attorneys at the office of Phillip J. Murphy today to find out how we can help.