There’s been a lot of discussion in the media recently about the Mueller investigation into President Trump’s alleged collusion with Russian operatives to influence the 2016 election. The investigation has now been ongoing for over a year, yet it has failed to uncover any evidence even remotely related to the claims levied against Trump in the so-called “Steele Dossier.” The investigation has been so fruitless that its purveyors have now shifted into damage-control mode, exploring every avenue available to pin some form of wrongdoing on President Trump and his associates. And, as in all investigations that run aground, Mueller’s team is trying to use the prosecutorial Swiss Army knife known as the obstruction of justice charge to avoid the embarrassment of admitting it has nothing.
The last two weeks in particular have seen a flurry of claims in the liberal media that Trump is on the verge of being indicted for obstruction of justice related to…something. What, they can’t say, but they’re sure Trump did something to obstruct justice, and they’re even more certain that an indictment is forthcoming. They don’t say precisely which entity will bring this indictment, but again, it’s done, save for the details. Fair enough, but there’s one glaring roadblock in this plan: "they" do not have the authority to indict President Trump.
As hard as it is for me to believe, a great many people in the media do not seem to have a clear grasp of Constitutional authority as it relates to the commission of crimes by a sitting president. Most of us learned about the Constitutional system of checks and balances in our intermediate-school social studies classes. But the talking heads on the alphabet networks seem to believe this is immaterial to this case, as do many of those who’ve been blinded by their hatred of Trump. Regardless, the Constitution is explicit regarding the process of removing a sitting president from office. So, class, let’s review what it says about this issue.
Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution states that the commission of “high crimes and misdemeanors” by a president shall trigger removal from office under the process of “Impeachment.” Having just ejected one despot from their lives, Madison and the other framers didn’t want to empower another. So they included provisions laying out how and by whom a sitting president would be impeached. The particulars of this procedure are outlined in Article I.
So who, you ask, holds the authority to impeach a sitting president? Article I, Section 2 states definitively that the “House of Representatives…shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.” Now, I’m no Constitutional scholar, but this provision seems fairly explicit in its intent. “Sole power of Impeachment” seems to indicate pretty clearly that no special prosecutors or district attorneys may bring articles of impeachment against a sitting president. This is a whip hand held by Congress alone.
But bringing articles of impeachment is only the first part of the process. The president, being entitled to due process, must be tried for his alleged crimes. Article I, Section 3 grants the authority for holding presidential impeachment trials to the Senate. In such trials, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court shall preside, and a two-thirds supermajority of Senators will be required to convict the president under the articles of impeachment brought against him.
Now again, this is all 6th-grade-level stuff, and hopefully it’s nothing you didn’t already know. But there is one remaining item within Section 3 of Article I that bears an important distinction germane to the current discussion. The final paragraph of the section clearly states that the conviction of a president under articles of impeachment allows only one punishment: removal from office. The Senate cannot sentence the president to prison time, or fine him, or send him into exile. The only punishment the Senate can levy against a sitting president convicted of those good ol’ high crimes and misdemeanors is the termination of his presidency.
For the sake of argument, though, let’s say the president were to commit some violent crime while in office, something so horrible that it couldn’t be forgiven or overlooked by the American public. Let’s say, for instance, that during a friendly game of croquet with media members on the South Lawn, President Trump became so upset after missing a wicket that he lost his temper and bashed Rachel Maddow’s head in with his croquet mallet. In such a horrifying but obviously realistic scenario, Trump would be, in fact, a murderer, but who would bring him to justice, given that the Senate can only punish him via removal from office? He just got away with it all because he’s president, right? Wrong.
In such a situation, the House of Representatives would likely bring articles of impeachment against President Trump for the “high crime” of murder, and it’s likely that the Senate would convict him under these articles. Can’t have a talking-head murderer as president, especially one that plays croquet, can we? So Trump would be gone. But the story wouldn’t end there. Once removed from office, once he were no longer the sitting president, Trump would then be subject to the full weight of the law. Because, while only the Congress can check the activities of President Trump, citizen Trump could be convicted of any crime he may commit in the same manner as any other U.S. citizen.
Article I, Section 3 states that, once removed from office via the impeachment process, a former president is “subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.” There is no statute of limitations on murder, so he could then be brought to justice by the civil authorities barring the granting of a pardon by the new president (which is, in fact, how President Nixon avoided living his Watergate nightmare well into the 1980s). But President Pence would likely not grant such a pardon, not to a Maddow murderer who had so riled the soul of America.
The upshot of all this is a very simple idea: sitting Presidents of the United States are granted enormous powers and protections under our system of government. We already knew this—right, liberals?—but it bears rehashing in light of the Mueller investigation. And our system of government was designed this way for a reason. Imagine if a district attorney in some podunk little jurisdiction in South Alabama or East Texas held the authority to indict the president. President Obama would have been indicted as he was taking the oath of office. His entire 8 years in office would have been spent fighting cooked up charges all across this land while the business of the nation went untended.
Mueller has been empowered to investigate the allegations of wrongdoing against Trump, but he has no real authority over the president. I know this is likely a shock to many people, but it is a fact. Mueller cannot indict the president; he has no authority to even question the president. The most he can do in regards to President Trump is to turn over his findings to the House for their consideration. The Mueller investigation is little more than a political witch hunt, the same way that the Ken Starr investigation into President Clinton was a witch hunt. The only difference between the two is that President Trump seems to have better taste in women than Mr. Clinton.
Either way, Trump haters have no power to secure an indictment against Trump, and they’re not going to see him impeached, not with Republican majorities in both houses of Congress. There is, in fact, only one way to take down this or any other sitting president, and that’s with our most powerful political tool of all, the vote.