In an article from late 2017, Adrian Morrow sums up the ongoing investigations into possible collusion and obstruction of justice by members of Donald Trump’s inner circle before and after his election in 2016.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

History, social studies, current events

Key Question to Explore:

  • What are the key issues underlying US Justice Department investigations into Russian meddling in the US election, and possible obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump?

New Terminology:

Plea bargain, collusion, obstruction

Materials Needed:

Globe article, the Internet

Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

The media has been awash in reports about various investigations into activities by key members of President Trump’s inner circle, including Mr. Trump, himself. The key issues involve possible charges of collusion with Russians to meddle in the election—their meddling is now confirmed fact, but collusion has yet to be shown. As well, President Trump’s actions and words about the Russian investigation point to possible obstruction of justice charges against the president. There exists a clear danger that a constitutional crisis may be on the horizon for America, which will inevitably have ramifications for other countries, including Canada.

In this lesson, you will engage students in a discussion about the issues, using the article by Adrian Morrow. Students will then be tasked with working online to find responses to the charges by various media, the President, Democrats, and Republicans. Typical news sources can include Canadian broadcasters such as CBC, CTV and Global, as well as American networks such as Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC. Students will cull their findings and summarize them in a short written report.

Action (lesson plan and task):

Ask students what they know about the investigations into Mr. Trump and some of his highest-ranking staff. Discuss, briefly. Ask volunteers to read aloud the article by Adrian Morrow, and continue the discussion; include these questions, answers provided for your benefit:

  • Who is Robert Mueller, and why is he in the news? (He is leading the Department of Justice investigation into possible wrongdoing by President Trump and/or his associates)
  • Since Mr. Mueller is hired by the president, why can’t the president tell him what to investigate or what not to investigate? (Because the US constitution has separated the powers of the Justice Department from the executive branch, precisely to prevent political interference in matters of justice)
  • How might the Russians have meddled in the election? (It remains to be fully determined, but it is established that they created hundreds of Facebook pages, through which they circulated fabricated stories about Hillary Clinton, among others)
  • What could the Russians have hoped to gain by helping to elect Donald Trump? (Again, although it’s not fully determined, it is known that the Trump organization was involved in at least one major development project in Russia; it is also known that the Russians hoped Mr. Trump would repeal the American Magnitsky Act, which froze the assets of numerous Russian oligarchs as a sanction for Russia’s invasion of Crimea and its incursions into East Ukraine).
  • Trump and his allies have argued that he’s innocent of the charges of obstruction of justice; therefore, there can be no obstruction of justice—since no wrong was committed. Is it possible to obstruct justice in the investigation of a crime, if the crime was never actually committed? (Yes. The offence is about obstructing a process, regardless of the outcome; it is also a crime in Canada as well, where those who “obstruct, pervert or defeat the course of justice [are] guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years.”)

For homework, provide students with the following assignment (Note: you may choose other news sources as you prefer, but the key is to have at least one on either end of the political spectrum):

Review two or three videos each from the following news sources, to see what arguments are being made in the president’s defence and against the president: CNN, Fox News, MSBC, CBC and CTV. Type into the Google (or other search engine) search box, for example: CNN videos on Trump investigation, and follow the links. 

For each network you view, note their positions and stories about the investigation:

  • Do they tend to think Mr. Trump is innocent, guilty, or that the facts are unknown at this point?
  • What do interviewed Republican politicians say about the charges? Democrat politicians?
  • What does President Trump say about the charges?
  • As of mid-February, it is not yet known whether Mr. Trump will testify in person in Mr. Mueller’s investigation. If this is not yet known at the time you’re doing this activity, what are the key arguments for and against Mr. Trump testifying on his own behalf?
  • Finally, what are your personal conclusions about the charges? Give reasons for your responses.

Consolidation of Learning:

  • When students have submitted their assignments, discuss their reports with the class. Take a survey to see where students stand on the issues.
Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

  • Students can offer informed opinions on the Trump investigations.

Confirming Activity:

  • Students report on any news items focused on the Mueller investigation, or on major developments as they occur.