Obstruction of justice?

Published February 4, 2018, 10:00 PM

by Mario Casayuran and Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Melito Salazar Jr.
Melito Salazar Jr.

By Melito Salazar Jr.


In the last few months, we have witnessed actuations of the White House and Republican leaders bordering on obstruction of justice in the case of the investigation of the Special Counsel of the probable collusion of the Republican campaign with Russian operatives during the period leading to the election of Donald Trump (born in the Year of the Dog) as president of the United States.

Following the lead of President Trump in his tweets and public statements assailing the independence, impartiality, and competence of American intelligence agencies, especially the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), in order to undermine their credibility, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Republican Devin Nunes is determined to prod the White House to issue a 4-page memo alleging that the top FBI officials “used unverified information in a court document to fuel a counterintelligence investigation during an American political campaign.” His committee earlier voting strictly along party lines decided to release the memo to the public provided President Trump does not block their move.

There is 100% certainty that President Trump will allow the release considering how it supports his continuing contention that the investigation into the collusion is not warranted. One recalls the many times when, confronted by the press, he has asserted, No collusion, No collusion, No collusion! In fact, I viewed on TV how he told a lawmaker following his State of the Nation that he plans “100 percent” to release the memo. Subsequently his chief of staff John Kelly said he expected the memo would be made public “pretty quick.”

The inordinate haste comes amidst objections not just from the Democrats but also the FBI. Top Democrat Adam Schiff in the House Intelligence Committee accused Chairman Nunes of making “material changes” in the draft memo without any members seeing it before it was sent to the White House. The FBI issued a rare, unsigned statement citing “grave concerns” with inaccuracies and omissions in the document. The above reports published in The Washington post makes me strongly believe that all these could lead to a charge of obstruction of justice which is an impeachable offense. It reminds one of the Watergate incident during the Nixon presidency which ended with his resignation as president.

In the Philippines we are faced with a potential constitutional impasse as Ombudsman Conchita Morales has decided not to enforce the order of the Office of the President to suspend Deputy Ombudsman Arthur Carandang for 90 days. Portions of her statement clearly indicate the reasons for her position, “…The Ombudsman will thus not allow herself to betray her sworn duty to uphold the Constitution by recognizing what is patently unconstitutional as ordained by the Supreme Court en banc in Gonzales III v Office of the President (G.R. No. 196231, 28 January 2014)… the Supreme Court categorically declared unconstitutional the administrative jurisdiction of the President over deputy ombudsman.… In a society founded on the rule of law, the arbitrary disregard of a clearly worded jurisprudence coupled with a confident stance that it will be changed should never be countenanced.”

I am concerned that the prevailing mood in Malacañang is that they can easily get the present Supreme Court to reverse the previous ruling, maybe banking on the trend as seen in the ongoing impeachment proceedings against the Chief Justice.

I hope that the Constitutional guarantees insulating the Office of the Ombudsman from political influence and interference are upheld, specifically, “giving the Ombudsman and his deputies, whose appointments need no Congressional confirmation, the rank of chairman and members, respectively, of a Constitutional Commission and removable from Office only by impeachment; and making it an independent office enjoying fiscal autonomy.”

If the Supreme Court will go along with the Office of the President in the preventive suspension of the deputy ombudsman tasked with investigating the wealth of the President and his family, will this be akin to the US Congress led by the Republicans colluding with the White House to undermine the credibility of the FBI and the Department of Justice? Will this not also raise the issue of obstruction of justice?