Schumer vows votes on background checks, voting rights after break
GOP senators: A president can obstruct justice
Several Republican senators said on Monday that a president could obstruct justice, breaking with an argument put forth by President Trump's legal team.
GOP Sen. Pat Toomey (Pa.) told reporters that it's "entirely possible for a president to obstruct justice."
"I will tell you my own view is it is entirely possible for a president to obstruct justice. If a president committed perjury to lie to or mislead investigators, if he encouraged others [to], if he destroyed evidence," Toomey said.
While the Pennsylvania senator declined to comment directly on the recent letter from Trump's lawyers, he added that he could think "of lots of ways a president could obstruct justice."
GOP Sen. Thom Tillis (N.C.) recommended reporters talk to an attorney about the legal argument being pushed by Trump's lawyers but added, "I don't think anybody in our system can obstruct justice."
Senators were quizzed on the issue after The New York Times reported that Trump's lawyers sent a letter to special counsel Robert Mueller in January arguing the president could not have obstructed justice because he has constitutional authority over all federal investigations.
The letter argues that the Constitution gives Trump the broad authority to, "if he wished, terminate the inquiry, or even exercise his power to pardon."
Other Republican senators noted that the Senate previously tried to convict President Clinton of obstruction of justice as part of his impeachment trial.
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), asked if a president could obstruct justice, pointed to the 1999 vote, saying, "There's a precedent there, obviously."
"I've always said I didn't think anybody is above or below the law," Shelby added.
Shelby is one of several GOP senators still in office who voted in 1999 that Clinton was guilty of obstructing justice.
Several other now-sitting GOP senators were members of the House during the Clinton impeachment scandal.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of the House impeachment managers, added that obstructing justice could be an impeachable offense.
"Well you can be impeached for obstructing justice, that's what we did with Clinton. Whether or not he can be charged criminally, while he's in office? I don't know," he said.
Asked if he would advise Trump against obstructing justice, Graham said: "Number one, I advise everybody from president to the people operating the elevator, don't obstruct justice."
Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 3 Senate Republican, sidestepped when questioned if Trump could obstruct justice, telling reporters: "I'm not sure I know the answer to that. I know that's a constitutional argument they're making."
"I don't think there's any evidence of obstruction, so I don't think there's any basis for that," added Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), asked if obstruction was an impeachable offense.
The January letter to Mueller was authored by John Dowd, one of Trump's former lawyers, and Jay Sekulow, another one of Trump's lawyers.
Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani was not a part of his legal team when the letter was sent but argued over the weekend that Trump has the ability to pardon himself, while predicting he wouldn't.
GOP senators on Monday stopped short of saying Trump doesn't have the legal ability to use his presidential powers to protect himself, but warned that doing so would spark a political firestorm.
"I think he has pardon authority whether that includes him, I would probably agree with what Giuliani said it would be ... suicide," said GOP Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Trump has increasingly lashed out at Mueller's probe into Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election, including potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow.
"The appointment of the Special Counsel is totally UNCONSTITUTIONAL! Despite that, we play the game because I, unlike the Democrats, have done nothing wrong!" Trump said in a tweet on Monday morning.