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“As painful and hard as it may be for the country, I believe the next attorney general should investigate Mr. Trump and, if warranted, prosecute him for potential federal crimes,” Andrew Weissmann, also known as the “pit bull” during the investigation, wrote in an opinion piece for The New York Times Tuesday.
Weissmann warned against the threat of becoming an autocratic state by noting that the last two presidential elections saw crowds of Americans calling for one of the nominees be “locked up.”
But Weissmann said he supports these latest demands to investigate Trump because of the evidence collected during the Special Counsel’s investigation — which he believes, along with groups of other former prosecutors, amass to obstruction of justice.
“What precedent is set if obstructing such an investigation is allowed to go unpunished and undeterred? Weissmann wrote in the Tuesday Op-ed. “It is hard enough for the executive branch to investigate a sitting president, who has the power to fire a special counsel (if needed, through the attorney general) and to thwart cooperation with an investigation by use of the clemency power.”
He pointed to Trump’s relationship with Roger Stone and how his use of clemency meant Stone was able to walk away from federal charges. Trump commuted Stone’s sentence after he was found by a jury to have committed crimes on behalf of the president.
In addition to Trump’s clemency card, Weissmann pointed to Trump’s former White House counsel Don McGahn who revealed the efforts the president went to to “obstruct” the investigation.
McGahn told federal prosecutors “how the president ordered the firing of the special counsel” and when those details were leaked to the press, Trump then order McGahn to “deny publicly the truth and, for safe measure, memorialize that falsity in a written memorandum.”
Trump has claimed for the last three years, following the initiation of the investigation that it was a “witch hunt,” and because they did not find collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, the president felt vindicated.
Mueller’s investigation never declared that Trump did obstruct justice, but rather laid out evidence for American’s to interpret, a move that has largely allowed the president to claim persecution from his opposition.
Weissmann points to how the president could issue blanket pardons prior to leaving office for anyone in his administration or members of his family – a power that is well within his ability as President of the United States.
Though while a president can issue pardons for federal charges, they cannot issue clemency for state-based charges – a work-around that New York prosecutors used against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
Manafort was charged by Manhattan District Attorney’s Office on 16 counts relating to residential mortgage fraud and conspiracy – a charge that had nothing to do with the Mueller investigation, but which landed him in prison that the president cannot override.
Weissmann pointed to financial crimes allegedly committed by the president prior to taking office which the Mueller investigation did not explore, but could prove problematic for the president.
But above all Weissmann thinks that the precedent set by not investigating the president for any federal crimes, would cause harm to the country’s well being.
“The precedent set for not deterring a president’s obstruction of a special counsel investigation would be too costly: It would make any future special counsel investigation toothless and set the presidency de facto above the law,” he wrote.
Concluding that “being president should mean you are more accountable, not less, to the rule of law.”