One of the most persistent assumptions in Constitutional law is that a sitting U.S. President cannot be indicted or tried in a regular court, because the Constitution gives Congress the sole authority to hold impeachment trials. However, now that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is making progress and getting closer to Donald Trump by the day, one widely respected expert is asserting that Mueller can in fact put Trump directly on trial.
Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe is considered perhaps the foremost expert on the United States Constitution. His former student, Congressman Adam Schiff, stated this week that “My view is there’s no legal prohibition on prosecuting a President of the United States.” That led Tribe to tweet in agreement: “I agree with Adam Schiff here. But, full disclosure, I was Adam’s Constitutional Law professor, so I’d be bootstrapping by invoking his view as authority. Special Prosecutors Leon Jaworski and Ken Starr reached the same legal conclusion, though.” He went on to explain further.
Professor Tribe followed up by tweeting “It’s about time more people questioned the myth that the Constitution requires impeaching and removing a president BEFORE indicting and trying him for his crimes. Those who say a sitting POTUS can’t be indicted have the burden of justifying that claim. The president isn’t a King.” So how exactly would this work with respect to Robert Mueller and Donald Trump?
Mueller would start by getting a grand jury to indict Donald Trump for one or more crimes (Palmer Report believes Mueller already has at least one indictment against Trump and he’s keeping it under seal). Mueller would then file charges and put Trump on trial. If Trump refused to participate, Mueller could either ask the courts to rule that Trump has to show up, or he could try Trump in absentia. If Trump is found guilty, it’s unclear if Mueller could actually send Trump to prison. However, at that point, Congress would have little realistic choice but to impeach and remove Trump.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report