TrumpWatch, Day 499: Trump’s Lawyers — He Can’t Have Obstructed Justice…Because He is the President

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Donald Trump salutes during a change of command ceremony, Washington, June 1, 2018 (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty)

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In a novel legal defense, attorneys for Donald Trump say he cannot have obstructed justice because he is the President of the USA.

The line is part of a months-long campaign by the lawyers to prevent Trump being questioned by Special Counsel Robert Mueller in the Trump-Russia investigation — an encounter that would put Trump at risk of perjury to add to possible political and criminal charges.

In a 20-page letter hand-delivered to Mueller in January, lawyers John Dowd and Jay Sekulow say the President cannot have illegally obstructed any aspect of the investigation because the Constitution empowers him to, “if he wished, terminate the inquiry, or even exercise his power to pardon”.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has tried to check any Trump move such as dismissal of Mueller by saying that — for now — Trump is not a target of the investigation. However, a series of Trump’s actions are under scrutiny. These include his intervention over National Security Advisor Michael Flynn before and after the official was dismissed in March 2017; the firing of FBI Director James Comey in May 2017; threats to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions over his recusal from the investigation; and Trump’s reported dictation of a false statement by his son Donald Jr. concerning a meeting in Trump Tower in June 2016 with three Kremlin-linked envoys.

Dodd and Sekulow tried to dismiss all of this with the argument:

Every action that the President took was taken with full constitutional authority pursuant to Article II of the United States Constitution. As such, these actions cannot constitute obstruction, whether viewed separately or even as a totality.

The interpretation by Trump’s attorneys could force an unprecedented battle in the courts. Law professor Jack Goldsmith, who oversaw the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel during the George W. Bush Administration, summarized:

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. It’s an open question.

Before the letter was revealed by The New York Times, Donald Trump complained on Saturday morning about its imminent appearance:

Dodd and Sekulow maintained, “The President’s prime function as the chief executive ought not be hampered by requests for interview. Having him testify demeans the office of the president before the world.”

Yet even as they made their case, the lawyers acknowledged one of the key points of the investigation, saying that Trump had dictated his son Donald Jr.’s July 2017 statement about the meeting 13 months earlier with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, consultant Rinat Akhmetshin, and Ike Kaveladze, the representative of Trump’s business associate Aras Agalarov.

Dodd and Sekulow insisted that the statement, which declared that the meeting was about “adoptions” rather than material to discredit Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton, is “short but accurate”.

They said that, because the statement is a matter between Trump and The New York Times, which broke the story about the Trump Tower encounter, it is outside Mueller’s inquiry — because misleading journalists is not a crime.

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