Richard Nixon famously claimed that “When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.” For Donald Trump, it seems a similar defense is being prepared.
Trump lawyer John Dowd made a shocking claim on Monday, according to Axios:
John Dowd, President Trump's outside lawyer, outlined to me a new and highly controversial defense/theory in the Russia probe: A president cannot be guilty of obstruction of justice.
The “president cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer under [the Constitution's Article II] and has every right to express his view of any case,” Dowd claims.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions could have an interesting opinion on that defense, given the fact that he helped lead the charge against former President Bill Clinton in an impeachment trial that included charges of obstruction of justice.
“In America, the Supreme Court and the American people believe no one is above the law,” the then-freshman senator from Alabama said at the time. “The president has gotten himself into this fix that is very serious.”
In a 1999 C-SPAN interview, Sessions explicitly commented on allegations that Clinton had obstructed justice:
“I hope that he can rebut that and prove that did not happen. I hope he can show that he did not commit obstruction of justice and that he can complete his term. But there are serious allegations that that occurred.”
Obstruction of justice was the basis for the third article of impeachment brought against President Clinton and was approved by the House in a 221-212 vote:
The president obstructed justice in an effort to delay, impede, cover up and conceal the existence of evidence related to the Jones case.
In a statement released after casting his vote for impeachment, Sessions reiterated his belief that Clinton had obstructed justice — while acknowledging that the president is the chief law enforcement officer:
It has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt and to a moral certainty that President William Jefferson Clinton perjured himself before a federal grand jury and has persisted in a continuous pattern of lying and obstructing justice. The chief law enforcement officer of the land, whose oath of office calls on him to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution, crossed the line and failed to defend and protect the law, and, in fact, attacked the law and the rights of a fellow citizen.
Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives on those charges, but the Senate's attempts to remove him from office proved unsuccessful.
Dowd's attempt to defend the president from allegations of obstruction of justice appears to directly contradict the views of the president's attorney general.