Editor’s Note: The idea of indicting a sitting president is still a matter of debate.
The fate of Donald Trump — and the nation — may lie in the hands of his next attorney general, William Barr. Since Justice Department policy prohibits indictment of a sitting president on criminal charges, the only way for Trump to be forced from office is impeachment.
But according to a new article in this morning’s Daily Beast, Trump could avoid impeachment if Barr stops Congress from seeing critical evidence in the files of special counsel Robert Mueller. This would create a national disaster, and a political crisis unlike anything the country has ever seen.
Barr, whose nomination passed another procedural hurdle yesterday, has said that “governing law” could keep Congress from reviewing evidence that the Mueller investigation has compiled against the president.
The stated reason federal prosecutors are prohibited from trying a sitting president for criminal conduct is that the U.S. Constitution provides another course of action: impeachment by Congress.
And Congress could probably impeach and remove Trump if they are able to use Mueller’s evidence of collusion and other crimes committed by Trump.
But if lawmakers are not allowed to see that evidence because of the attorney general’s position, then that would prevent a thorough impeachment trial while Trump is still president.
The problem is that during Senate hearings Barr refused to commit to sharing all of Mueller’s final report, if one is ever issued, with the public or with Congress. He said that the evidence could be subject to rules on secrecy and privacy.
According to the Daily Beast many legal experts believe that the attorney general nominee is wrong, however.
This is because there is a precedent supporting the release of the special counsel’s findings: a court allowed the House to review evidence against Richard Nixon in the Watergate investigation.
That court decision expressly stated that Congress has a right to obtain any evidence against a president in a criminal investigation. And the U.S. Constitution would then give authority to the House to impeach, and the Senate to remove, the chief executive for “high crimes or misdemeanors.”
To get Mueller’s files, Congress may have to prepare to issue a subpoena to demand Mueller’s grand jury evidence. The House did this in 1974 when they issued a subpoena to special prosecutor Leon Jaworski.
That would certainly set off another court battle, and Trump and Barr have already signaled that they’re willing to fight any attempt to release Mueller’s findings to the public.
As the Daily Beast article said:
“Trump has demonstrated little hesitancy to openly engage in efforts to obstruct justice. Therefore, our current president might try to stand in the way of the sharing of Mueller’s evidence with the Congress, possibly with the support of his new attorney general.”
Even though Democrats now control the House and will begin their own investigations, they may not have enough time to thoroughly investigate all of Trump’s crimes. House Republicans wasted two years in sham investigations while Mueller was busy compiling the evidence needed to try and convict Trump for his many crimes.
If the House is not able to see Mueller’s evidence, and thus are not able to either indict or impeach the president, it would be a national tragedy. And it may allow a criminal to remain in office as President of the United States.
House Democrats must do everything they can to make sure they are able to see Mueller’s report and to use his evidence in their own investigations into Trump’s criminal behavior. Ultimately the fate of Trump’s presidency, and of our democracy, may lie in their hands.
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.