Another day, another leak related to President Trump—and this one's a biggy. A 20-page letter acquired by the New York Times reveals that Trump's lawyers are making a novel Constitutional argument in an attempt to stave off questioning by Robert Mueller. The special counsel can't force Trump to talk about possible obstruction of justice, they argue, because the Constitution empowers Trump to, "if he wished, terminate the inquiry, or even exercise his power to pardon." In the January letter to Mueller, former Trump lawyers John Dowd and Jay Sekulow state that "the President’s actions here, by virtue of his position as the chief law enforcement officer, could neither constitutionally nor legally constitute obstruction because that would amount to him obstructing himself." More on the letter:
- The Times says this "broad interpretation" of presidential power will likely be tested in court if Mueller presses Trump to undergo questioning. "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," says a Harvard law professor. "It's an open question."
- In their argument, Trump's lawyers aren't clear whether they're referring to the probe into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, which Trump apparently pressured the FBI to stop, or the whole investigation into Trump.
- But they say Trump couldn't have impeded a probe into Flynn because he didn't know it existed when speaking to former FBI Director James Comey. "There could not possibly have been intent to obstruct an 'investigation' that had been neither confirmed nor denied to White House counsel," they write. But Trump's lawyers are basing that argument on an old statute, and don't mention a 2002 law that criminalizes the obstruction of proceedings that haven't started yet.
- The lawyers also praise Trump for having his aides investigate Flynn and for eventually firing him. "Far, far, from obstructing justice, the only individual in the entire Flynn story that ensured swift justice was the president," they write. "His actions speak louder than any words."
- The lawyers mention a statement dictated by Trump to the Times, about his senior aides meeting with Russians in 2016 at Trump Tower. The Times calls the statement "misleading" for saying that Donald Trump Jr. attended the meeting "primarily" to talk about adoption laws. Trump's lawyers, however, call Trump's statement "short but accurate." They also say it's not illegal to mislead reporters.
- Trump's comment to NBC reporter Lester Holt about firing Comey over "this Russia thing" is blown out of proportion, per Trump's lawyers. The full interview, they say, clarifies that "he was willing, even expecting, to let the investigation take more time, though he thinks it is ridiculous, because he believes that the American people deserve to have a competent leader of the FBI."
- Trump's lawyers also argue that Mueller's questioning, by subpoena or otherwise, would impede the president's job. "The president’s prime function as the chief executive ought not be hampered by requests for interview," they write. "Having him testify demeans the office of the president before the world."
- A Trump tweet Saturday touched on his lawyers' leaked letter. It reads in part, "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?"
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