Does Donald Trump think he’s above the law? That’s been the question on everyone’s mind after a pair of carefully-worded letters were leaked to the press.
Does Donald Trump think he’s above the law? That’s been the question on everyone’s mind after a pair of carefully-worded letters were leaked to the press.

What stunning leaked letters reveal

DOES Donald Trump think he's above the law?

That's been the question on everyone's mind after a pair of carefully worded letters were leaked to the press.

The letters, written from the President's lawyers to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, argued that he shouldn't have to submit himself to an investigation because his position grants him absolute authority over all investigations.

WHAT DID THE LETTERS SAY?

Mr Mueller is overseeing a probe into the alleged collusion between Mr Trump's 2016 campaign and Russian officials.

In May last year, he was appointed by the Department of Justice to handle the probe, and was given the wide authority to investigate whether the President or his associates colluded with Moscow to bag the top job.

His investigation has already led to charges for four of Mr Trump's campaign associates, although none were directly related to any misconduct by the presidential campaign.

Mr Trump himself is yet to be questioned by Mr Mueller or his team.

Which brings us to these letters.

Over the weekend, The New York Times published two leaked letters sent by the President's lawyers to Mr Mueller.

The first, dated last June, argued there was "no statutory or constitutional basis" for an obstruction of justice charge against Mr Trump.

The second, dated January this year, says that Mr Trump cannot be forced to testify while arguing that he could not have committed obstruction because he has absolute authority over all federal investigations.

The letter was a bold assertion of presidential power and another front on which Mr Trump's lawyers have argued that the President can't be subpoenaed in the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

The lawyers argued that "under our system of government, the President is not readily available to be interviewed", which the Times suggested was meant to serve as a warning that Mr Mueller will face significant legal pushback if he tries to subpoena Mr Trump.

The lawyers also argued the subpoena would be "a considerable burden for the President and his Office", and that "having him testify demeans the Office of the President before the world".

It argues that Mr Trump could not possibly have committed obstruction in the Russian investigation because the Constitution gives him the authority to "terminate the inquiry, or even exercise his power to pardon if he so desired".

Mr Trump's "actions here, by virtue of his position as the chief law enforcement officer, could neither constitutionally nor legally constitute obstruction because that would amount to him obstructing himself," the lawyers wrote.

Mr Trump has addressed the controversy over the letter, once again likening the investigation to a "witch hunt".

 

As has been stated by numerous legal scholars, I have the absolute right to PARDON myself, but why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong? …

 

HOW CRITICS RESPONDED TO THE LEAK

The idea that the investigation could be a "considerable burden" for the President was panned by Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, who noted that the President spends hours watching television and many weekends playing golf.

He also suggested the President can't "demean the Office of the President" any more than he already has, referencing a string of controversies including the Stormy Daniels scandal, his allegedly mocking a reporter's physical disability during his campaign, and referring to third-world nations as "sh*thole countries".

 

Columnist Richard Cohen argued the Stormy Daniels case was one of the many reasons Mr Trump is in no position to claim an investigation would “demean” his office.
Columnist Richard Cohen argued the Stormy Daniels case was one of the many reasons Mr Trump is in no position to claim an investigation would “demean” his office.

 

CNN's Chris Cillizza said it was clear Mr Trump was obsessed with the investigation - and suggests he fears what Mr Mueller may discover.

"That the President of the United States felt the need to weigh in on the legal debate over whether or not he can pardon himself provides us a remarkable window into Trump's mindset at the moment," he wrote.

"A quick scroll through his Twitter feed shows how much of his time is consumed by thinking about the investigation. And the tone of those tweets - angry, incredulous and, most interestingly, victimized - suggest just how much emotional investment Trump has in all of this.

"The fact that Trump felt compelled to weigh in on the ongoing legal debate over whether or not he can pardon himself (as well as whether or not Mueller can subpoena him or indict him) means the idea that there may eventually be something to pardon himself for is on his mind."

Daily Beast columnist Michael Tomasky suggested arguing Mr Trump has absolute power sets a dangerous precedent.

"He will do anything he can get away with. Anyone who doesn't by now acknowledge that is being intentionally stupid," he wrote. "His lawyers have conveniently affirmed for us that he'll do anything he can get away with," "They say he could murder someone. They say that by definition he can't break the law - any law."

 

SO DOES TRUMP THINK HE'S ABOVE THE LAW?

Fear not. A final verdict was sought, with Press Secretary Sarah Huckerbee Sanders called on to clear things up at a press conference.

NBC's White House reporter Peter Alexander repeatedly whether Mr Trump believes he is above the law, and she struggled to give a straight answer.

Sarah Sanders was repeatedly asked if the President believes he is above the law. Here's what she said.

"Certainly not - the president hasn't done anything wrong," she said.

"The question isn't if the president has done anything wrong. I guess the question is, does the president believe the framers envisioned a system where the president could pardon himself - where the president could be above the law?" the journalist responded.

Again, Ms Sanders avoided an answer: "The Constitution very clearly lays out the law, and once again, the president hasn't done anything wrong, and we feel comfortable on that front."

Pressed again for clarification, she finally said: "Certainly no one is above the law."

Thank heavens that's been cleared up.

- with wires


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