Former Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday he believed Robert Mueller legally could prosecute President Donald Trump on obstruction of justice charges — but that the special counsel would need to build a strong case.
“Is there a technical case there now?” Holder said in response to questions from POLITICO after a Christian Science Monitor breakfast Wednesday. “I think so. Now.”
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Mueller, as part of his wide-ranging probe into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and whether any Trump associates were involved, has showed signs that he is investigating whether the president obstructed justice. Some legal experts have cited as evidence Trump’s 2017 firing of FBI Director James Comey, who was then heading the Russia probe, and subsequent reports that Trump once asked Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and two other top U.S. intelligence officials to intervene with Comey’s investigation.
Holder, who ran the Justice Department under President Barack Obama and was deputy attorney general under President Bill Clinton, initially seemed hesitant to weigh in on whether Mueller could bring an obstruction case. Some Trump allies and legal experts say the law prevents the president from being charged with such a crime. Others believe he cannot be indicted at all.
Holder disagreed, saying a sitting president is not above the law, based on a legal examination of the issue that was done when he was the deputy attorney general under Clinton.
But the ex-AG emphasized that he thought prosecutors would want to gather as much evidence as possible, especially in going after a sitting president.
“If you’re a prosecutor, you make sure that you are building the best case. Not a technical case, but the best case, you know, that you can,” cautioned Holder, a former federal prosecutor who led an effort to put one sitting congressman in prison. “You know, the Comey firing. The outreaches to Coats and the other intel guys.”
“There are a variety of things that I can think of, technically” that could be used against the president in an obstruction case, Holder said, before adding of Mueller’s team: “Now, who knows what else they’ve got.”
In recent months, Holder hasn’t been shy about criticizing Trump, especially on Twitter, where he has excoriated the president, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and others for what he sees as politicizing the Justice Department and violating the firewall between politics and federal law enforcement efforts.
Holder attended the breakfast to promote the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which he described as the first-ever “strategic hub” for a comprehensive redistricting strategy that includes winning specially targeted elections and evening the electoral playing field after decades of Republican gerrymandering.
For 45 minutes, Holder was peppered with questions about the initiative, the midterm congressional races, prison reform and a range of other topics. He sharply criticized Trump for his repeated criticisms of the FBI and Justice Department, saying they will have “long-term collateral negative consequences” on the criminal justice system.
Holder said Obama, his partner in the redistricting effort, told him recently that he plans to campaign actively in the midterms, especially in races “that will matter for redistricting. He has identified this as his chief political activity in his post-presidency.”
Asked whether he himself has plans to run for political office, Holder said he thought he would decide by the end of 2018 “whether or not there is another chapter in my government service.”