It is time now for Congress to take concrete action in the aftermath of the report resulting from the Russia investigation by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller and his remarkable statement today specifically stating that President Trump was NOT cleared of obstructing, or attempting to obstruct, justice.
Yes, of course, Congress has no choice but to begin impeachment proceedings against the president. That is abundantly clear. It is also obvious that there must be a full court press to prevent Russia or any other country from interfering in the 2020 election as was the case in 2016, which Trump denies.
But beyond that, Congress must make it abundantly clear that the president of the United States is NOT above the law, that he or she CAN be charged with a federal crime while in office if the evidence warrants such a charge.
Mueller said today that from the beginning of his investigation he and his team knew they could not charge the president of a federal crime; that it was never in the cards.
Because of a longstanding Justice Department policy -- a memo -- emanating from the Nixon administration that specifically forbids such a charge against a sitting president. In other words, that policy places the president above the law. He can do whatever he wants to do and nobody can stop him.
That's how dictators are made. And we have a president right now who acts more and more every day like a dictator.
But remember, that is a POLICY announced in a MEMO. It is not a LAW. Policies can change by those in charge -- such as the next attorney general -- and a new memo issued. Or they can be overturned legislatively by Congress.
This article from Reuters explains the origin of the current Justice Department policy that tied the hands of Mueller and his investigators:
In 1973, in the midst of the Watergate scandal engulfing President Richard Nixon, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel adopted in an internal memo the position that a sitting president cannot be indicted. Nixon resigned in 1974, with the House of Representatives moving toward impeaching him.
“The spectacle of an indicted president still trying to serve as Chief Executive boggles the imagination,” the memo stated. The department reaffirmed the policy in a 2000 memo, saying court decisions in the intervening years had not changed its conclusion that a sitting president is “constitutionally immune” from indictment and criminal prosecution.
It concluded that criminal charges against a president would “violate the constitutional separation of powers” delineating the authority of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the U.S. government.
“The indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting President would unconstitutionally undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions,” the memo stated.
The 1973 and 2000 memos are binding on Justice Department employees, including Mueller, according to many legal experts. Mueller was appointed in May 2017 by the department’s No. 2 official Rod Rosenstein.
The article goes on to state that the current policy does not shield a president after leaving office as long as prosecution takes place within the statute of limitations. So, it is conceivable that this could happen to Trump if he is not reelected.
Indeed, Congress now has its hands full. The pressure is on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to move forward with impeachment, despite her reluctance and near certain knowledge that the Republican-controlled Senate would not vote to convict. She said today House Democrats would act with deliberation "to get the best result for the American people."
But Congress should also address the issue of that misguided Justice Department policy that, for now, is shielding Trump from prosecution -- despite evidence in the Mueller Report that he has obstructed justice in nearly a dozen instances.
Nobody, especially the president of the United States, should be above the law. Nobody.