It’s been a rock solid principle of American jurisprudence that no person is above the law. Yet attorneys for President Trump are attempting to claim new constitutional privileges for the president that would place Trump outside the reach of any charges of obstruction of justice that may be brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller as he continues to investigate everything surrounding foreign interference in the election that brought Trump to power.
According to an article in The New York Times, Trump’s lawyers sent a letter to the special counsel in January claiming a new expansion of presidential powers that would essentially grant Trump immunity from any charges of obstruction on account of his office’s unlimited authority over all investigations initiated by the executive branch.
“In a brash assertion of presidential power, the 20-page letter — sent to the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and obtained by The New York Times — contends that the president cannot illegally obstruct any aspect of the investigation into Russia’s election meddling because the Constitution empowers him to, ‘if he wished, terminate the inquiry, or even exercise his power to pardon.’”
Experts say that this unique interpretation of presidential power is likely to be tested in court battles if the president and his legal team actually attempt to utilize it in the event of a subpoena, an indictment, or the order to halt the Mueller inquiry.
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“We don’t know what the law is on the intersection between the obstruction statutes and the president exercising his constitutional power to supervise an investigation in the Justice Department,” said Jack Goldsmith, the Bush administration’s head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and now a Harvard Law School professor. “It’s an open question.”
The letter was written by Trump’s former lead attorney John Dowd who has since resigned over the president’s failure to follow his legal advice, and Jay Sekulow, who remains on the defense team, and was written in an attempt to prevent Trump from having to speak with Mueller and his team in an interview, either voluntarily or after being forced to by a subpoena.
“’We are reminded of our duty to protect the president and his office,’ the lawyers wrote, making their case that Mr. Mueller has the information he needs from tens of thousands of pages of documents they provided and testimony by other witnesses, obviating the necessity for a presidential interview,” The New York Times writes.
The leak of his attorneys’ letter to Mueller enraged the president who tweeted out an accusation that the letter was disclosed to the newspaper by the special counsel’s office.
There was No Collusion with Russia (except by the Democrats). When will this very expensive Witch Hunt Hoax ever end? So bad for our Country. Is the Special Counsel/Justice Department leaking my lawyers letters to the Fake News Media? Should be looking at Dems corruption instead?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 2, 2018
Trump’s anger over the leak becomes understandable when reading the full text of the 20 page document which essentially divulges his legal team’s strategy, at least as of January. The New York Times’ annotation of the letter provides an outline of the defense team’s claims and strategies that many constitutional scholars would find novel and disturbing in a society that values transparency and accountability from their leaders.
The rhetorical and legal hoops that the president’s lawyers jump through in the letter show the intensity of their fight to protect Trump from having to be interviewed by Mueller.
The vehemence with which they fight begs the questions: If the president is indeed innocent of obstruction, collusion and the other charges being investigated by Mueller and his team, why is he fighting so hard to avoid discussing it? How could an interview be the “perjury trap” that his lawyers have called it unless the president lies or misleads Mueller in his answers to the questions? And why would he have any reason to lie or mislead if he is indeed innocent?
Those are the questions, despite Trump’s attorneys’ legal gyrations, that the American people are desperate for answers to.
Follow Vinnie Longobardo on Twitter.