Trump’s Legal Team: The President Is Above the Law

It is worth noting that, while Attorney General Barr has apparently negotiated an agreement to provide the House Judiciary Committee with access to Robert Mueller’s “most important files” related to the obstruction inquiry, Trump’s lawyers continue to fight in court against the release of the president’s financial records. It is very likely that the latter poses the bigger threat to Trump, who has already suggested that an investigation into his finances would cross a so-called “red line.”

The president’s personal attorney, William Consovoy, filed a brief in the D.C. court of appeals to halt a congressional subpoena of Mazars USA, Trump’s accounting firm. As part of the rationale against releasing the president’s financial records, Consovoy affirmed the previous argument that congress can only investigate matters related to legislation. He goes on to say that congress does not have the authority to investigate whether the president broke the law—only the executive branch can do that.

We now have a complete bubble of protection around Trump. According to his team, the Justice Department has the authority to investigate whether the president broke the law, but cannot indict him. Meanwhile, congress is actually barred from investigating whether a president broke the law.

Even that is not enough for these executive authority extremists. The brief goes on to suggest that, were congress to launch an investigation in order to consider legislation regarding presidential conflicts of interest, any resulting legislation would be unconstitutional.

Trump launches into a broader argument that Congress is “severely constrained in the ways it can regulate the President.”

“Extending federal conflict-of-interest laws to the President (or imposing new ones on him) would exceed Congress’s narrow legislative authority over the office,” the filing reads.

Taken all together:

  • Congress can’t pass conflict-of-interest laws regulating the president.
  • Congress can’t investigate whether the president broke the law.
  • The Justice Department, which can investigate whether the president broke the law, cannot indict him.

While the brief does acknowledge that congress has the constitutional authority to impeach and remove a president from office, they issue a dire warning, saying that it “entails massive costs to our nation’s economy, national security, diplomacy, and political health.”

Consovoy’s brief is 54 pages long. He could have saved all of us (including himself) a lot of time if he’d simply written, “the president is above the law.”

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.