The Debate over the Mueller Interview

The Notes of Alexis Simendinger

Not since the era of former President George W. Bush has Washington engaged in such a vivid debate about executive power. Back then, it was about national security and war. Now it’s about what might happen if President Trump put a bullet through his nemesis, former FBI Director James Comey.

“If he shot James Comey, he’d be impeached the next day,” Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani told HuffPost on Sunday. “Impeach him, and then you can do whatever you want to do to him.”

The former prosecutor’s eyebrow-raising point was that Trump can’t be subpoenaed or indicted for any criminal act by the executive branch he governs. Impeachment by the legislative branch is the only check.

That’s the crux of a lengthy legal argument Trump’s former legal team sent to special counsel Robert Mueller months ago. The New York Times on Saturday published the 20-page letter, setting off a ferocious, cable-infused debate about points even Giuliani, who joined Trump’s legal defenders more recently, is somewhat equivocal.

The boldest argument made by Trump’s legal advisers was that if Mueller reports to the Justice Department that there’s evidence the president obstructed the ongoing Russia investigation, the Constitution empowers the president to, “if he wished, terminate the inquiry, or even exercise his power to pardon.”

The undertow

The former New York mayor, who chats during interviews like a politician and a showman more than as a constitutional law expert, thinks it unwise for the president to submit to an interview with Mueller, and he’s setting the stage in case the president fights a subpoena. Trump, at least publicly, runs hot and cold on the idea of facing off against the special counsel.

Giuliani conceded to ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos that truth and memories are not fixed around the president: “This is the reason you don’t let the president testify. Our recollection keeps changing, or we’re not even asked a question and somebody makes an assumption,” he said.

Debate turns to Congress

Reactions from lawmakers were swift about whether Trump can pardon himself, or unilaterally shut down federal investigations. Giuliani’s arguments, despite his protestations of the president’s innocence, sent a message to the president’s allies in Congress: If Trump winds up in legal hot water, lawmakers get the first crack at what to do about it.

A president should not pardon himself, says House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) (The Hill):  … Possibility of Trump pardoning himself sparks pushback from GOP (The Hill) … Giuliani says Trump “probably” has power to pardon himself (The Hill)… Giuliani threatens to go to court if Mueller subpoenas Trump (The Hill).

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