Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s nine-minute farewell speech Wednesday conjured up a line from “Alice in Wonderland”: “If you don’t know where you are going any road can take you there.”
“If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller remarked. “We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime.”
His statement could lead Democrats to Impeachment Drive or, as Trump supporters contend, Dead End Alley.
Mueller maintained longstanding Department of Justice policy precludes charging a sitting president with a federal crime. “That is unconstitutional,” he said.
The prevailing 2000 DOJ memorandum from the Clinton administration states, “The indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting President would impermissibly undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions.”
Under that scenario, the impeachment process is the remedy.
The House would vote to impeach or indict, followed by a Senate vote to convict and removal from office, requiring a two-thirds majority. Realistically, the latter is a longshot. Hypothetically, though, a criminal indictment could follow.
Whether a president is above the law was hotly debated during the legal chess match to access President Richard Nixon’s White House tapes after the Watergate break-in.
His attorney James St. Clair stated, “The president wants me to argue that he is as powerful a monarch as Louis XIV, only four years at a time, and is not subject to the processes of any court in the land except the court of impeachment.”
That imperious argument didn’t fly with Judge John Sirica of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia or the U.S. Supreme Court, which rejected it, 8-0.
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Watergate Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski in a 1974 brief wrote, “It is by no means clear that a president is immune from indictment.”
Then he took a detour. A grand jury named Nixon as “an unindicted co-conspirator.” He subsequently resigned.
Special Counsel Ken Starr — like Jaworski, dealt different rules than Mueller — provided the House with 11 impeachable offenses allegedly committed by Bill Clinton in the Whitewater probe.
The House impeached him, but the Senate didn’t convict.
Because Mueller didn’t provide a clear direction, Democrats’ better route to Impeachment Drive may be Trump’s finances.
With Trump reneging on his promise to reveal his tax returns, Democrats are following a new road map.
A federal judge ruled Trump couldn’t block Congress from obtaining detailed records of his transactions with Germany’s Deutsche Bank in a probe of potential money laundering and financial fraud.
The bank has his federal tax records.
If that fails, New York state lawmakers have approved making his state tax returns available.
As the New York Times revealed, Trump reported losses of $1.17 billion from 1985-94. Yet, in a remarkable turnaround that begs explanation, he was flush with cash 10 years later.
Mueller aside, Trump’s road doesn’t lead him out of the woods yet.