Published On: Tue, Jun 5th, 2018

Trump And His Lawyers Embrace A Vision Of Vast Executive Power

President Trump, ramping up his assertions of extraordinary powers, declared in a tweet on Monday that he had “the absolute right” to pardon himself for any crime.

Trump

While no president has ever purported to pardon himself, and it is not clear whether Mr. Trump could legitimately take such a step, the president’s claim was the latest in an aggressive series of moves to assert his control over federal law enforcement.

He has unfettered authority to fire the F.B.I. director, which he did last year; to order a federal investigation opened or closed; and to pardon anyone, including felons or criminal suspects, his longtime personal lawyer Marc E. Kasowitz said in a confidential memo last June. “The president cannot obstruct himself or subordinates acting on his behalf by simply exercising these inherent constitutional powers,” he wrote.

Mr. Kasowitz made his case in a letter to the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and it was endorsed by two of the president’s other personal lawyers, John M. Dowd and Jay A. Sekulow, who incorporated his arguments in their own letter to Mr. Mueller in January. Both letters, published over the weekend by The New York Times, offered an array of factual and legal arguments for why Mr. Trump has not violated obstruction laws and need not answer questions from Mr. Mueller.

But the Trump team’s claim that obstruction-of-justice statutes do not apply to the president carries new twists.

The implications of Mr. Trump’s claim also go beyond the context of his lawyers defending him in a criminal case. If obstruction statutes cannot stop Mr. Trump from shutting down an investigation even if he did so with a corrupt motive, then Justice Department procedures and regulations also cannot stop him from ordering an investigation into his political opponents for corrupt reasons.

“Put simply,” Mr. Kasowitz wrote last June, “the Constitution leaves no question that the president has exclusive authority over the ultimate conduct and disposition of all criminal investigations and over those executive branch officials responsible for conducting those investigations.”

While Britain’s kings traditionally wielded a prerogative power to suspend or dispense with laws, the framers of the Constitution required the American president to faithfully execute them, Mr. Shane noted. Though what that means can sometimes be blurry, he said, the Trump claim struck him as dubiously broad.