The President is Not Above the Law

Every day, Donald Trump lies about his views, his interests, his actions, and the law. His claim that “Article II would let me do whatever I want” is so fundamentally contrary to the rule of law, it calls into question whether he is eligible to serve at all. Contrary to his claims, the Constitution makes sure the President cannot be above the law.

Article II makes the President the leader of the Executive branch of government, and in that capacity, he has broad discretion on a wide range of matters and can fire people who work for him, but the Constitution places strict constraints on Presidential power. What’s more, no matter how lawful an action in the best of circumstances, that same action becomes illegal if its purpose is to further or to conceal criminal activity.

  • If, for instance, President Trump intended to use the power to hire and fire top officials as a way to obstruct investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, or any other ongoing criminal or intelligence investigation, that corrupt intent would make an otherwise lawful firing into a criminal abuse of office.
  • It would also serve as material evidence of a campaign to obstruct justice, and in the worst case, could constitute material support to a hostile power’s efforts to disrupt and undermine our democracy.

Article II also exists in context.

  • Article I outlines the powers of the Legislative branch, and Article III the powers of the Judiciary.
  • Both of these exist to ensure no Executive office-holder is able to abuse their office or corrupt the overall process of government.
  • The Bill of Rights is also structured around a single core principle: under no circumstances can the right of the people to be free from tyranny be sidelined by those who hold power.

The First Amendment prohibits constraints on individual liberty and also on the right of the people to assemble for political action and to seek redress for grievances. The Third Amendment creates a zone of protection around the private residence, extending as far as a prohibition on requiring the quartering of military personnel in times of need. The Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth Amendments directly restrict the powers of the Executive to engage in abusive prosecutions.

The Ninth Amendment, maybe the most underappreciated of all, reads:

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

The Tenth Amendment reads:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Rights supersede powers. The right against tyrannical abuse of office absolutely supersedes the desire of corrupt actors to abuse public office. No power exists to use the powers of Executive office to further or conceal wrongdoing.

There is no valid interpretation of law that allows a president to act without constraint on the exercise of power. There is no valid interpretation of Article II that says the president can do “whatever he wants.” The claim, put against the broad sweep of American history and law, is disqualifying. No official in government has legal authorization to follow any directive based on this principle.

Today, a new FOX News poll shows 50% of registered voters believe Trump coordinated his 2016 campaign’s efforts with Russian intelligence operations. The Mueller Report makes clear that there were more than 120 contacts between the Trump Campaign and Russian operatives, and evidence has been provided in court that showed the Campaign Chair Paul Manafort provided internal polling information related to swing state strategy to Russian operatives.

In his public remarks, the Special Counsel made clear the evidence gathered was misrepresented by the Attorney General, and that there is sufficient evidence to warrant Constitutionally prescribed actions to counter corrupt acts by the Executive. Every person sworn to uphold the Constitution has an obligation to treat the President’s unfounded claims of absolute power as what they are—a declaration of intent to misuse public office.

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