Watershed moment for Donald Trump?
For United States President, the moment of truth may soon come. On Thursday, former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Comey, will depose before a United States Senate committee, where he is likely to present evidence about the president who sacked him before the conclusion of an investigation looking into possible links between Moscow and Trump's campaign team. For Trump, the stakes are indeed high, although going by his public pronouncements he does not seem too perturbed. Among the questions that the Senate Intelligence Committee will likely ask Comey is whether Trump attempted to persuade him to stop the investigation into links between disgraced former National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, and Russian officials. Other questions that Comey is likely to face are: Did the US President seek to extract a vow of personal loyalty? Was Comey fired because he did not comply?
Trump has denied these charges, but if Comey does contradict him, then it would represent a potential obstruction of justice by a sitting US president, paving the way for his possible impeachment. Unlike past political scandals that have marred American democracy, the talk of possible collusions between a sitting US president's campaign team and Kremlin to change the course of a presidential election is a lot more serious that talk of bribery or dirty political behaviour. For all the above-stated reasons, Comey's testimony may determine whether Trump survives his first term in office. Political pundits indicate that Trump might try to invoke executive privileges to prevent Comey from testifying before a Senate committee, but it will reek of desperation. Mainstream news outlets, however, report that Trump will not seek to stall proceedings. Nonetheless, a spokesperson for the Trump administration admitted to not taking that option off the table completely. She said that it was up to the US president to decide whether he wants to take that option, although it may look like a desperate gambit on his part, as none of his predecessors has ever stopped an official from giving testimony. Trump could also use the US Justice Department to issue an injunction against Comey, preventing him from testifying. Legal experts counter that claim by suggesting is that such a move could result in a long-drawn battle in courts. "The courts ruled in the course of the Watergate scandal that executive privilege cannot be used to hide inappropriate or unlawful conduct by the executive," says a recent news report from The Guardian. "And Trump himself has already put the substance of his conversations with Comey in the public domain by giving his version of them, claiming to NBC that the FBI director told him three times he was not under investigation."
In the past month, events in Washington have provided a fresh twist to allegations of anti-constitutional acts committed by Trump. The appointment of the former FBI Director Robert Mueller as the special counsel to investigations into the Trump campaign's collusion with the Russians has upped the ante on the embattled president. What makes the appointment of Mueller a significant threat to the Trump administration is that the President has found himself mired in allegations of obstructing justice. The issue will be whether the President has obstructed justice first by asking the former FBI Director James Comey to let his former national security advisor Michael Flynn off the hook for his alleged ties with Moscow. After Comey had declined Trump's request, he was fired.
Trump has complicated his position further by tweeting "Comey better hope that there are no tapes of our conversations". In the US, obstruction of justice by the sitting President is a serious offence. Reports suggest that President Trump was aware of Flynn's alleged indiscretions after receiving warning former his predecessor Barack Obama and then acting attorney general Sally Yates. They warned him that Flynn had served as a lobbyist for the Turkish government, apart from his Russia connections. Despite these inputs, he appointed Flynn as national security adviser and supported him until it was impossible to do so any longer. Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner is also in the crosshairs of investigators. He had allegedly in December 2016 proposed to discuss with Russian Ambassador to America Sergei Kislyak the possibility of creating a "secret communication channel" between the Trump's campaign team and Moscow, bypassing US intelligence. During the meeting Kushner is believed to have proposed the idea of using Russian diplomatic facilities to protect their discussions from monitoring by American investigative agencies Kushner is now under the scrutiny of the FBI and is part of the probe agency's larger investigations into the Trump's campaign team's links with Russian officials
If the FBI investigation indeed finds concrete proof that the Trump campaign had coordinated with Moscow, it would end up as a kind of scandal that could render the US President vulnerable to impeachment. Herein lay the catch. There is yet no concrete proof to definitively suggest that the Trump campaign team, aided and abetted by the Moscow, undermined the US Presidential elections. As some supporters of the Trump administration suggest, this could be a case of unelected officials hiding behind the veil of 'national interest' trying to boot out an elected government. Trump did not help his case, when he admitted to firing Comey with "this Russia thing" on his mind. Both Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon had faced impeachment proceedings for obstruction of justice.