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It's time to end the statute of limitations for sitting presidents

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Since Donald Trump came down the escalator of Trump Tower to launch his run for president, we have found ourselves asking questions we never believed we would have to ask about our leaders. The loudest of those questions concern Trump’s criminal activity. While we know that Trump was perhaps the most blatantly criminal person ever to occupy the White House, it’s quite another matter to be able to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.

That effort has been hindered by the longstanding Department of Justice (DOJ) policy against indicting sitting presidents for crimes committed while in office. That policy did not anticipate a situation where a president’s political allies were willing to look the other way when said president essentially ran the White House and the country as a crime syndicate.

In 2019, former FBI director Robert Mueller released the results of his special counsel investigation into Russia’s attempt to hack the 2016 election for Trump. While Mueller outlined at least ten potential instances in which Trump obstructed justice, he concluded that none were egregious enough to merit a criminal referral. By the time Trump left office, the already limited window to prosecute him for these potential crimes was even narrower, given that much of the time in the five-year statute of limitations had already elapsed. The ticking clock has only added to frustrations inside and outside this country about the prospect of Trump never facing justice for his actions.

Fortunately, two of Trump’s biggest gadflies in Congress—Reps. Jerry Nadler of New York and Adam Schiff of California—realize that even if we can’t make Trump stand trial for his crimes in office, we have to prevent the possibility of another criminal president avoiding accountability. They have introduced legislation that would all but eliminate the statute of limitations for presidents who commit crimes while in office.

The DOJ’s policy against indicting sitting presidents for federal crimes has its roots in a DOJ memo issued in 1973, during the worst of Watergate. The 41-page document, penned by assistant attorney general Robert Dixon, head of the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel, was titled “Amenability of the President, Vice President, and other Civil Officers to Federal Criminal Prosecution while in Office.” While delving into several historical documents to weigh the pros and cons of indicting a sitting president, Dixon ultimately concluded that the president’s role was too vital for him to be indicted while in office.

Dixon argued that if a president had to face criminal charges, it would interfere with many duties “which cannot be performed by anyone else.” Dixon believed the concern was especially acute given that the president’s power had grown to a level “undreamed of in the 18th and early 19th centuries.” Dixon also claimed that if an indicted president opted to go to trial, a guilty verdict might not be seen as legitimate, given the “passions and exposure” surrounding the presidency.

For these and other reasons, Dixon argued that impeachment and removal were the only means of dealing with potentially criminal conduct by a sitting president. While he reiterated that there was no bar to criminally charging a president once he left office, he openly admitted that there was a possibility the statute of limitations could run out before then. While conceding that this potentially created a “gap in the law,” he believed indicting a........

© Daily Kos

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