Murder at 1600: A thought experiment
Let’s consider this:
The DC police are called into the White House. No word, as of yet, has leaked to the media. But it’s bad.
It appears that there’s been a murder on the White House grounds.
That’s bad enough. But it gets worse.
The victim is the president’s wife.
Horrific. But wait, there’s more.
The murderer is the president himself.
Now, were I to murder my wife (heaven forfend), I’d be immediately arrested and indicted. But would a president?
Not if you take the Department of Justice guidance that a sitting president cannot be indicted at face value.
If you take that at face value, then no, a murderous president cannot be indicted. He would have to be removed from office first before he could face a court trial.
OK, great, impeach him and then convict him in the Senate. Seems easy enough, especially in the light of murder.
But what if the president’s party shields him from that for whatever reason? (He’s getting their agenda passed, his base frightens the party, the usual?) Again, if you take that DoJ guidance and face value, this president would be immune from prosecution for murder because he was still in office.
This ridiculous situation—a president seemingly immune from prosecution—is what we find ourselves in.
The Southern District of New York, in its sentencing recommendation for Michael Cohen, stated that Cohen committed his crimes at the behest of Donald Trump. Substitute “murder” for “campaign finance fraud”, and it would make no difference. Anyone else—including members of Congress and justices of the Supreme Court—would be subject to indictment. But Trump is curiously immune, because of a Department of Justice guidance which flies in the face of logic. It sets the president above the law, bound only by the political winds of whichever party controls the Congress. If the opposition controls the legislature, then he’ll face justice. If not, well, what’s a little felony between friends?
The revolutionaries were fighting against what they saw as a tyranny, in which their rights were being stepped on. The Constitution mentions nothing about immunity from prosecution for elected officials. We’ve been treated over these two centuries to members of Congress of various sorts being brought up on charges. The idea that the president is unique in that he cannot be prosecuted for crimes when a Congress won’t remove him is absurd on its face. The Founders weren’t seeking in creating the office of the presidency to create an elected dictator. (Which, tangentially, is why I support term limits for presidents; otherwise, we would have had a senile Ronald Reagan winning re-election in 1988.) The Justice Department guidance is its reading of the Constitution; but the DoJ doesn’t determine what the Constitution means. The Supreme Court does. And we are now in a situation where a sitting president is an unindicted co-conspirator in various crimes, and is being shielded by his supine confederates in Congress.
If Donald Trump as president can be above the law, then what does the law mean? Why couldn’t he shoot someone on 5th Avenue and walk away “Scott Free”? The sheer insult to “equal justice under law” which this DoJ interpretation commits needs to be settled, once and for all. Because if a president is essentially above the law unless Congress is in the hands of the opposition party, then our Republic is well and truly broken.
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