More than a dozen prominent legal scholars and law professors penned a letter to White House counsel Monday, picking apart the arguments set forth by President Donald Trump’s former attorneys earlier this year claiming the president cannot obstruct justice due to the powers granted him by the office he holds.
The 14 legal professionals argued that “[t]he Office of the President is not a get-out-of-jail free card for lawless behavior”.
"Indeed, our country’s Founders made it clear in the Declaration of Independence that they did not believe that even a king had such powers; they specifically cited King George’s obstruction of justice as among the 'injuries and usurpations' that justified independence. Our Founders would not have created — and did not create — a Constitution that would permit the President to use his powers to violate the laws for corrupt and self-interested reasons."
Among those who signed the letter – coordinated by watchdog group Protect Democracy – were Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe, former U.S. Attorneys Harry Litman and Joyce Vance and former Obama White House ethics czar Norm Eisen.
The scholars' letter argues that the Constitution's requirement that presidents "take care that the Laws be faithfully executed" precludes the kind of sweeping arguments Trump private lawyers John Dowd and Jay Sekulow made in a 20-page January letter to special counsel Robert Mueller. The Trump attorneys' missive was first published Saturday by The New York Times.
The letter then goes on to address congressional efforts that further rein in attempted obstruction:
"Congress has enacted obstruction of justice statutes that prohibit any person from acting 'corruptly' to interfere with federal criminal investigations," the law professors wrote. "Whatever a President may have been able to do in the absence of such statutes, Congress’s judgment that obstruction of justice is prohibited binds the President."
They then delineate several ways federal obstruction laws “bar on corruptly-motivated actions”, from firing those leading an investigation to “dangling or issuing pardons” meant to encourage “witnesses to impede the investigation”.
Just as the President could not use otherwise lawful firing powers in exchange for a bribe without running afoul of federal bribery laws, he is not free to exempt himself from the application of the obstruction of justice laws," the professors wrote.
"These structural checks against abuses typical of monarchy further elucidate the Founders’ vision — seen in the Oath and Take Care Clause — of a chief executive bound to act with care and fidelity for the benefit of the country, not himself personally," the professors added.