With President-elect Joe Biden set to step into the White House on Jan. 20, 2021, some Democrats say the Department of Justice must launch an investigation of President Donald Trump after the inauguration.
Andrew Weissman, one of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecutors, penned an op-ed published in The New York Times on Tuesday to address the question of whether Trump should be prosecuted once he leaves office.
He noted that an investigation or criminal prosecution of Trump would “further divide the country and stoke claims that the Justice Department was merely exacting revenge” and would be a “spectacle.”
Still, he said, “As painful and hard as it may be for the country, I believe the next attorney general should investigate Mr. Trump and, if warranted, prosecute him for potential federal crimes.”
He noted that the country has gone through two presidential election cycles where “large crowds” called for the “nominee of the opposing party” to be prosecuted.
“But that is not sufficient reason to let Mr. Trump off the hook,” he said, adding, “Mr. Trump’s criminal exposure is clear.” Specifically, he said the Mueller team “amassed ample evidence to support a charge that Mr. Trump obstructed justice. That view is widely shared.”
Mueller was appointed to look into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether members of Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian operatives to steal the election.
While the investigation did not find evidence of coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives, it did lay out several instances the president may have obstructed justice.
Weissman proceed to ask, “What precedent is set if obstructing such an investigation is allowed to go unpunished and undeterred?”
And in his op-ed, Weissman laid out several examples of reportedly dangling pardons for his associates in a bid to “thwart witnesses from cooperating with our investigation.”
Additionally, Weissman suggested that Trump’s “criminal liability goes further, to actions before taking office.” He noted that New York state’s attorney general appears to be conducting a “classic white-collar investigation into tax and bank fraud.”
“These state matters may well reveal evidence warranting additional federal charges,” he suggested.
Weissman also argued the details of possible obstruction by Trump are not “trivial” and “should not raise concerns that Mr. Trump is being singled out for something that would not be investigated or prosecuted if committed by anyone else.”
Finally, he claimed not prosecuting Trump for obstruction of justice would “be worse still.”
He explained, “The precedent set for not deterring a president’s obstruction of a special counsel investigation would be too costly: It would make any future special counsel investigation toothless and set the presidency de facto above the law.”
Despite his belief that Trump should be prosecuted for obstruction of justice, he suggested that the president may pardon his associates, his family, and may even try to pardon himself.
If Trump tries to self-pardon himself, Weissman said, “States like New York should take up the mantle to see that the rule of law is upheld.” He also noted that the incoming attorney general could challenge a self-pardon’s legality.
Biden has reportedly signaled that he does not want his administration to investigate Trump as he has cited fears that such investigations would further divide the country.
However, Biden has previously vowed that he would not interfere with the Department of Justice’s decision on the matter of whether or not to investigate and potentially prosecute Trump.