Claim That Trump Can’t Obstruct Justice Has Little Support Among Scholars


Publish Date:
December 4, 2017
  • Egelko, Bob
San Francisco Chronicle
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Forty years ago, former President Richard Nixon famously told interviewer David Frost, when asked whether a president can order an illegal act in the nation’s best interests, “Well, when the president does it, that means it is not illegal.”

President Trump’s personal lawyer, John Dowd, didn’t go quite that far Monday in talking to NBC News about whether Trump’s firing of former FBI Director James Comey could be considered obstruction of justice, as an attempt to derail the investigation of Russian involvement in last year’s presidential election. But he came close.

“It’s a claim the country rejected when Nixon made it, and the country should reject it now,” said David Sklansky, a Stanford criminal law professor. “No one should be above the law and no one should be free to obstruct justice, including the president.”

A different assessment came from Robert Weisberg, a Stanford law professor and, along with Sklansky, a co-director of the law school’s Criminal Justice Center.

“In a sense, the president is the chief prosecutor, and prosecutors can be allowed discretion not to prosecute,” Weisberg said. But that doesn’t mean, he said, that they can “exercise that discretion with a corrupt intent.”

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