Prosecutors: Trump would've been charged if he weren't president

A gavel sits on a desk inside the Court of Appeals at the new Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center, which celebrated its official opening on Monday Jan. 14, 2013, in Denver. 
A gavel sits on a desk inside the Court of Appeals at the new Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center, which celebrated its official opening on Monday Jan. 14, 2013, in Denver. 

When Donald Trump reflects on the Mueller report and its findings, he sees "total exoneration." When former federal prosecutors look at the same document, they see ... something else.

President Donald Trump would have been indicted for obstruction of justice in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation if he did not hold the nation's highest office, more than 500 former federal prosecutors argued in an open letter published on Medium on Monday.The ex-prosecutors -- who have served under both Republican and Democratic administrations dating back to President Dwight D. Eisenhower -- said Attorney General William Barr's decision not to charge Trump with obstruction "runs counter to logic and our experience."The letter added, "Each of us believes that the conduct of President Trump described in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report would, in the case of any other person not covered by the Office of Legal Counsel policy against indicting a sitting President, result in multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice."

The joint letter went on to note, "We emphasize that these are not matters of close professional judgment." It was a line that stood out for me for a reason: according to these former prosecutors, the evidence that Trump would've been prosecuted is obvious. It's not even a close call.

They added, in reference to the Justice Department policy preventing prosecution of a sitting president, "We believe strongly that, but for the OLC memo, the overwhelming weight of professional judgment would come down in favor of prosecution for the conduct outlined in the Mueller Report."

When this joint letter was first released, it was signed by more than 300 veterans of the Justice Department. The total then topped 400. Then 500. Then 600. As of this very moment, there are 634 former federal prosecutors who've signed on to the document -- and there's every reason to believe that number will grow as today progresses. [Update: As of 4:30 p.m. eastern, the list of signatories is up to 711, which is roughly double the total when the document was first released.]

Neal Katyal, the former acting solicitor general, told MSNBC's Ari Melber yesterday, "I've never seen anything quite like it.... [I]f this were anyone else but a sitting president, this person would be labeled a felon and staring down the barrel of a federal indictment."

All of which tells us a few things.

First, when Trump says he's been fully exonerated, his claims aren't just wrong, they're ridiculous.

Second, there are 634 new reasons to question Attorney General Bill Barr's judgment, competence, professionalism, and independence.

Third, the statute of limitations on Trump's alleged crimes won't expire for a few years, so if these hundreds of prosecutors are correct in their legal analysis, and the president loses his re-election bid next year, the possibility of a Trump criminal indictment is very real. (If, however, Trump wins a second term, the statute of limitations would expire.)

And finally, it's worth pausing to appreciate the courage of those who signed their name to the joint statement. Each of these prosecutors must realize they're taking a political risk -- especially those who served in Republican administrations -- but they signed it anyway.