Law professors rip Trump legal team’s memo claiming vast executive power

Law professors rip Trump legal team’s memo claiming vast executive power
© Greg Nash

More than a dozen lawyers and legal scholars have signed onto a letter to two top White House lawyers, torching an argument deployed by President TrumpDonald John TrumpCNN analyst Kirsten Powers: Melania's jacket should read 'Let them eat cake' CNN's Cuomo confronts Lewandowski over 'womp womp' remark Sessions says FBI agent Peter Strzok no longer has his security clearance MORE's personal attorneys that the president cannot obstruct justice.

The letter, sent on Monday to White House counsel Don McGahn and special counsel to the president Emmet Flood, sharply rebuts a letter sent by Trump's attorneys to special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE earlier this year, arguing that the president has unfettered authority over all federal investigations, including the right to end them.

“The Office of the President is not a get out of jail free card for lawless behavior,” the letter reads. “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.”

ADVERTISEMENT

“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.”

The letter was signed by 14 prominent legal scholars and law professors, including Harvard University professor Laurence Tribe, former Obama White House ethics czar Norm Eisen and Asha Rangappa, a CNN analyst and former FBI special agent.

Politico first reported the letter on Tuesday.

The letter came days after The New York Times published a letter sent to Mueller in January by John Dowd and Jay Sekulow, two of the president's personal attorneys, asserting a broad view of the president's constitutional authority.

That letter argued that the president cannot obstruct justice, because he is ultimately the nation's top law enforcement official and can end federal investigations whenever he so chooses. 

But the letter sent to White House lawyers on Monday takes a sharply different view of the president's authority. It argues that Trump is subject to the same laws barring obstruction of justice as everybody else.

“The federal obstruction laws, with their bar on corruptly-motivated actions, apply whether the president obstructs an investigation through firing officials leading it, shutting down the investigation, ordering the destruction of documents, or dangling or issuing pardons to induce witnesses to impede the investigation,” the letter reads.

“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.”