Kaine: Trump 'very, very close' to obstructing justice

Hugh Lessig
Contact Reporterhlessig@dailypress.com

The scandal that led to President Trump firing FBI Director James Comey "lays out a case that is very, very close to obstruction of justice," Sen. Tim Kaine said Wednesday.

Kaine stopped short of saying that Trump had committed impeachable offenses, which could lead to the president's dismissal. In a conference call with reporters, Kaine called for a special prosecutor to ferret out the facts of the case.

Later Wednesday, Kaine got his wish. The Justice Department appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as a special prosecutor to oversee the investigation into the scandal that reportedly led to Comey's ouster: Russia's election meddling, which includes allegations of ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.

The appointment was reported by multiple news outlets.

Meanwhile, Virginia's other Democratic senator is involved in a related investigation that moved forward Wednesday.

Sen. Mark R. Warner, vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said the panel wants Comey to testify in both open and closed sessions. Warner and Sen. Richard Burr, the committee's chairman, also want acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe to testify.

Trump fired Comey last week as the FBI was investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who had ties to Russian representatives.

Authorities say Russian meddling in the election benefited Trump at the expense of his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton. Kaine was Clinton's vice presidential running mate.

Trump asked Comey to shut down the Russia investigation, according to news accounts. Comey refused and reportedly asked for more resources to continue the investigation before his ouster. At a different meeting, Trump asked for the FBI director's loyalty, according to reports.

The White House has pushed back against this public narrative, and Kaine acknowledged that some facts are disputed.

"Did the president in fact ask that the investigation be dropped? Was there in fact a request for more resources for the investigation? And some of these disputes — we've got to get to the bottom of the facts — but it's getting very, very close to a classic obstruction of justice case."

Obstruction of justice is an impeachable offense. That process would begin in the House of Representatives, which would draw up and vote on articles of impeachment. If that passes, the president goes on trial in the Senate. Republicans control the House and Senate, so it would take considerable momentum for that to gain steam.

Rep. Al Green, a Texas Democrat, publicly called for Trump's impeachment Wednesday in a House floor speech. He became the first Democrat to take that step. Rep. Justin Amash, a Republican from Michigan, became the first House Republican to raise the possibility of impeachment, according to USA Today.

Meanwhile, Kaine said the string of scandals emanating from the White House is threatening progress on other issues.

When he reported for work last Monday, Kaine said he expected to roll up his sleeves and begin substantive work on a health care bill. The next day, Trump fired Comey, and things haven't been the same since.

The scandal "is crowding out our ability to get to the health care question and resolve it, to do the defense authorizing bill, to work on tax reform, to work on infrastructure. That's a very legitimate concern," he said.

During Wednesday's conference call, Kaine also wanted to talk about new legislation he introduced with Warner to allow school districts to renovate aging buildings.

It would allow a federal historic rehabilitation tax credit to apply to school buildings that continue to operate as schools. Under current law, the credit applies only for buildings renovated to serve a different function than before. Buildings in both the Hampton and Newport News school divisions would benefit if the bill passed, according to a news release.

Other issues are just over the horizon.

Next week, the Senate Armed Services Committee on which Kaine serves will hold a pair of hearings on the buildup toward a 355-ship Navy, an issue of intense interest in Hampton Roads, both in terms of national security and the economy.

With so many issues before Congress, Kaine said it's important to have an independent prosecutor who "will take one of the issues off the table and give us more ability to focus on some of the important domestic priorities we need to be grappling with right now."

Lessig can be reached by phone at 757-247-7821.

Copyright © 2017, The Virginia Gazette
30°