Lawyers for President Donald Trump claim it’s legally impossible for him to obstruct justice due to his broad presidential authority, according to a letter sent to special counsel Robert Mueller that was obtained by The New York Times.
Trump’s legal team used the argument to assert that the president has the authority to deny a subpoena against him to testify before the special counsel, a bold claim that expands traditional understandings of executive power.
“Ensuring that the office remains sacred and above the fray of shifting political winds and gamesmanship is of critical importance,” Trump’s lawyers wrote, explaining that the Constitution grants the president the power to “if he wished, terminate the inquiry, or even exercise his power to pardon.”
Written by two of Trump’s lawyers at the time, John Dowd and Jay Sekulow, the confidential memo was meant to highlight the president’s cooperation with the Russia investigation — particularly around whether Trump obstructed justice by firing former FBI Director James Comey — while stressing that the president doesn’t have to sit for an interview with Mueller.
But they also emphasized that the president isn’t above the law and is only seeking to curtail parts of the investigation that interfere with his ability to lead the country effectively.
“Of course, the president of the United States is not above the law, but just as obvious and equally as true is the fact that the president should not be subjected to strained readings and forced applications of clearly irrelevant statutes,” they wrote.
Harvard Law School professor Jack Goldsmith told the Times that the intersection of presidential authority and a Justice Department investigation is an “open question” and that it’s not clear whether the executive office carries the power to shut down inquiries and grant a kind of immunity to the president.
But the letter sent to Mueller shows the Trump team’s efforts to avoid having to sit for an interview with the special counsel, stressing that while the White House will cooperate, it hopes the investigation will end soon.
Trump responded to the news on Saturday, suggesting that people involved in the investigation had leaked the letter to the media.
There was No Collusion with Russia (except by the Democrats). When will this very expensive Witch Hunt Hoax ever end? So bad for our Country. Is the Special Counsel/Justice Department leaking my lawyers letters to the Fake News Media? Should be looking at Dems corruption instead?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 2, 2018
In the letter, the lawyers also said that Trump himself had dictated the media statement saying that the meeting at Trump Tower between Donald Trump Jr. and Russians promising damaging info on Hillary Clinton was “primarily” about adoption issues — a statement the lawyers said was “short but accurate.”