Once Special Counsel Robert Mueller reaches the point where he’s built a criminal case against Donald Trump, it’s never been clear what will happen next – because there’s so little precedent. The presumption has been that at some point Mueller will reach the end of his Constitutional power, and have to simply allow Congress to decide whether to impeach him. But now one prominent legal expert says Mueller can actually prosecute Trump directly, which would change everything.
Up to now, the debate has largely been whether Mueller’s endgame would go in one of two directions. Would he incriminate Trump as an unindicted co-conspirator, as was done to Richard Nixon, before handing it over to Congress? Or would he go so far as to have a grand jury indict Trump, thus spelling out the full extent of Trump’s criminal complicity, thus putting more pressure on Congress to impeach? The Brookings Institution, considered a foremost legal authority, now says there’s a third option.
A detailed new legal report released by the Brookings Institution makes the case that Robert Mueller can prosecute Donald Trump as if he were any other defendant (link). There has always been pushback as to whether this was Constitutionally possible, because Mueller can’t remove Trump from office. There’s no question that only Congress can do that. But now we’re looking at a whole different endgame.
If Robert Mueller can put Donald Trump on criminal trial in a courtroom and get a conviction, we’d find ourselves in a singularly unprecedented situation. The trial alone would cripple Trump’s presidency and put extraordinary pressure on the Republican Congress to oust him. If he were convicted while still in office, it’s unclear if he could be imprisoned while still president. But at that point Congress would almost surely decide to make the problem go away by impeaching him.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report