Donald Trump says he has the ‘legal right’ to interfere in criminal cases – US Election 2020





Updated

February 15, 2020 10:40:09

United States President Donald Trump says he has “the legal right” to interfere in criminal cases, which has raised questions about the independence of the American judicial system.

Key points:

  • Mr Trump said he had the right to interfere, but hasn’t used the power yet
  • This came after the US Justice Department weakened the prosecution of a Trump ally
  • Most modern US presidents have remained faithful to the principle of judicial independence

In the US, the executive, judiciary and legislature are supposed to be independent of each other, to ensure there are enough checks and balances to prevent an abuse of power by the Government of the day.

But Mr Trump’s criticism of the judge, jury and prosecutors in the criminal case of his long-time adviser Roger Stone has thrown this balance into question.

This happened days after the US Justice Department overruled its prosecutors’ recommendation that Mr Stone be sentenced to seven to nine years in prison, which prompted all four case prosecutors to resign in apparent protest.

The president’s comments have also prompted an unusual rebuke from Trump-appointee, Attorney-General William Barr, who overruled the prosecutors.

The Democrats have called for further investigations into the matter after recently trying and failing to impeach Mr Trump in Congress for allegedly abusing the presidential office for domestic political gain.

The Republican-controlled Senate ultimately thwarted their attempt by acquitting him of all charges without calling witnesses, making Mr Trump the third US president in history to survive an impeachment attempt.

No sitting US president has ever been convicted of a crime through impeachment since the Republic was founded.

‘Remember: Trump’s not of government’

Following the impeachment trial, Mr Trump has transferred or fired government officials who testified about the impeachment’s trigger: the accusation that he pressured Ukraine to investigate a potential political rival — Joe Biden — prior to November’s presidential election.

He also dropped his nomination of former US attorney Jessie Liu, who oversaw the Stone case, for another Government post in the Treasury Department.

Sources close to the President told Reuters on the condition of anonymity that Mr Trump has a greater sense of freedom in the wake of his Senate acquittal.

“You have to remember, he’s not ‘of’ government. He gets frustrated when people tell him something can’t get done. He’s like: ‘Just get it done,'” said the administration official.

Attorney-General Barr said Mr Trump’s tweets made it “impossible” for him to do his job leading the Justice Department, telling ABC America:

“It’s time to stop the tweeting.”

Mr Trump “has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case,” he added.

Limits on presidential power still vague

Since Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal of the 1970s, most US presidents have generally kept an arms-length distance from the Justice Department, but it appears as though Mr Trump is breaking with tradition.

On Friday morning, Mr Trump tweeted that he had the “legal right” to interfere in criminal cases, but so far has “chosen not to!”

Concerns about weak limits on US presidential power stretch right back to its founding document, as article II of the US constitution details a broad remit for executive office:

“The executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America,” it reads.

Critics of this article have said that “executive power” remains too vague, but in the centuries since the founding of the Republic, courts have set legal precedents which have set the parameters of the executive, such as war powers.

The Senate meanwhile sought to impose some restrictions on Mr Trump, voting to limit his ability to wage war with Iran and questioning whether one of his nominees is qualified to serve on the board of the US Federal Reserve.

Trump fired staffer who complained about interference

Mr Trump’s former chief of staff, John Kelly, has also joined the ranks of those who have been on the receiving end of their former employer’s scorn.

The staffer had previously defended Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who was ousted from his White House job last week after testifying in Mr Trump’s impeachment inquiry.

He also criticised Mr Trump for pardoning former Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher — after he was convicted for posing with an Iraqi detainee’s corpse — and halting a further Navy-led investigation into Chief Gallagher.

“The idea that the Commander-in-Chief intervened there, in my opinion, was exactly the wrong thing to do,” Mr Kelly said in a speech, according to The Atlantic.

For this, Mr Trump said on Twitter that Mr Kelly was akin to an ex-partner who “misses the action & just can’t keep his mouth shut”.

After this latest round of staff terminations, Mr Trump’s office is set to include people perceived as loyal to the administration, which includes former communication director Hope Hicks and former personal assistant Johnny McEntee.

ABC/Reuters

Topics:

donald-trump,

government-and-politics,

courts-and-trials,

judges-and-legal-profession,

laws,

ethics,

united-states

First posted

February 15, 2020 10:34:25





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