The inquiry remains in great danger, facing four looming threats from Mr. Trump and his allies.
Curbing Mr. Mueller: Almost as bad as firing him, Mr. Trump could install someone at the Department of Justice to oversee Mr. Mueller’s investigation, a minder who could control (and cut) Mr. Mueller’s budget, eliminate some of his team or curtail the scope of his investigation.
Mueller seems safe as long as his current supervisor, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, is in place
.. But the president has reportedly grumbled about Mr. Rosenstein and could replace him with a crony who would be more willing to interfere. The president might also try to force out Attorney General Jeff Sessions
.. Congress should maintain its recent practice of taking short, pro forma adjournments rather than taking a full recess, because the latter would allow the president to fire Justice Department personnel and replace them with recess appointments.
.. Smearing Mr. Mueller: The most certain and perhaps most insidious assault will be more of what we have already seen — a campaign to smear Mr. Mueller and his staff by pushing meritless attacks.
.. That was followed by the canard that Mr. Mueller had unlawfully obtained Trump transition-team emails — even though there is no legal basis for an expectation of privacy on email accounts provided by the government.
.. Democracy demands defense with analysis, opinion and the readiness for public protest (one of the co-authors, Mr. Eisen, has been involved in organizing these efforts). Peaceful force is something that Mr. Trump has made clear he understands. We must continue to deploy it, lest the president achieve by debasement what our collective efforts have thus far prevented him from doing directly: stopping Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Mr. Kushner also failed to disclose approximately 100 foreign contacts on his security clearance application; each omission is a potential false statement. Mr. Flynn may have information about conversations with Mr. Kushner that would demonstrate that the omissions on Mr. Kushner’s form were intentional, and therefore criminal.
.. What was disclosed in the court filings and hearings is probably only the tip of the iceberg; prosecutors generally keep that to the bare minimum needed for the guilty plea, in order to avoid tipping their hand in their investigation.
.. the president’s son has been interviewed at length as a part of congressional investigations, and Mr. Flynn’s testimony could show he was not candid. Because of Mr. Flynn’s role on the campaign as a trusted member of the inner circle, he may also have a great deal to say about topics like Mr. Trump Jr.’s June 2016 meeting with several Russians, Mr. Manafort and Mr. Kushner, or about the Trump scion’s contacts with WikiLeaks.
.. Mr. Flynn’s cooperation could also place Mr. Trump himself in real jeopardy. ABC News has reported that Mr. Flynn will say Mr. Trump “directed him to make contact with the Russians.” If that is so, it opens a Pandora’s box of questions for the president. Is that a reference to the calls about the sanctions, or something else?
.. Mr. Trump exposed himself to obstruction of justice liability by exercising his power to fire Mr. Comey for questionable ends. Mr. Trump would incur the same potential liability were he to issue pardons for self-interested or corrupt reasons, and the courts might not recognize their validity. Even lawfully conferred powers wielded by the president cannot be employed corruptly.
Can a president pardon himself? Four days before Richard Nixon resigned, his own Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel opined no, citing “the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case.” We agree.
The Justice Department was right that guidance could be found in the enduring principles that no one can be both the judge and the defendant in the same matter, and that no one is above the law.
The Constitution specifically bars the president from using the pardon power to prevent his own impeachment and removal. It adds that any official removed through impeachment remains fully subject to criminal prosecution. That provision would make no sense if the president could pardon himself.
.. a president may conclude that even if a person may have committed a crime, he was acting in good faith to protect the national interest; President George H.W. Bush pardoned former defense secretary Casper Weinberger in the Iran-contra affair in part for this reason.
.. President Trump thinks he can do a lot of things just because he is president. He says that the president can act as if he has no conflicts of interest. He says that he can fire the FBI director for any reason he wants.
.. In one sense, Trump is right — he can do all of these things, although there will be legal repercussions if he does. Using official powers for corrupt purposes — such as impeding or obstructing an investigation — can constitute a crime.