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Defining obstruction of justice after James Comey's testimony

A look at the law
A look at the law after James Comey's testimony 02:05

Throughout Thursday's hearing, former FBI Director James Comey was careful not to say whether he thought President Trump broke the law. That was evident in an exchange with West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin.

"Do you believe this will rise to obstruction of justice?" Manchin asked Comey.

"I don't know. That's Bob Mueller's job to sort that out," Comey replied. "I don't think it's for me to say whether the conversation I had with the president was an effort to obstruct."

Top takeaways from Comey's testimony 03:55

Deferring to the special counsel, Comey instead laid out his version of the facts, including that Mr. Trump -- after firing National Security Adviser Michael Flynn -- urged Comey to drop his investigation into Flynn's post-election conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

"I took it as a direction," Comey said.

But even if Comey thought that, it's not necessarily a crime. What's key for obstruction is intent: whether Mr. Trump thought that firing Flynn was punishment enough -- or whether he "corruptly... endeavors to influence, obstruct or impede" the investigation for an "improper purpose."

Scott Fredericksen CBS News

Scott Fredericksen, a former federal prosecutor, spoke to CBS News.

"The one overall takeaway today is obstruction of justice," Fredericksen said. "The fundamentals might be there, potentially, but there is more investigation in the future."

And some of Comey's testimony, like an exchange with Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, bolstered Mr. Trump's claims that he did not obstruct.

"Did the president at any time ask you to stop the FBI investigation into the Russian involvement in the 2016 U.S. elections?" Burr asked.

"Not to my understanding no," Comey said.

But this is more of a political matter. A sitting president has never been indicted. The Constitution says impeachment is the punishment for committing high crimes and misdemeanors, which means obstruction of justice is whatever a majority of Congress says it is.

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