By Logan Rader, Political Columnist—
A new apparition of controversy within the political realm appears seemingly every day. That was the case until Aug. 21, when verdicts from two separate trials resulted in President Donald Trump being implicated in court and pushed further into the ongoing investigation into his presidency.
Two of Trump’s allies, Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen, were found and pleaded guilty, respectively, to financial crimes. This includes the payments to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal during the 2016 campaign. Cohen said in court that these payments were made “at the direction of” President Trump for the purpose of “influencing the election,” meaning the President of the United States has been implicated in a federal trial.
Whether Special Counsel Robert Mueller III will or will not issue a subpoena to the President is in the air. It would be hard for Trump to disagree to it, however, because of the financial evidence and testimony from Michael Cohen. Ultimately, it is possible for the question of Nixon’s yesteryear to arise: Can a sitting President be indicted? The answer is yes, but it requires democratic authority to do so.
The Office of the Special Counsel, with Mueller as its face in contemporary politics, first began as an independent legal arm of the Merit Systems Protections Board and has appointed prosecutors to investigate Presidents Nixon, Clinton, and Trump. It became an entity of the Executive in 1989 while maintaining its independence. When Clinton’s improprieties were under investigation, questions regarding the scope of independence with which the special counsel operates began to stir, so an additional filter was added procedurally to make sure the OSC stays within its boundaries – Congressional approval of charges against a sitting President. Today there is evidence suggesting the President had a role in committing financial crimes, particularly relating to his campaign.
To advance the investigation with a formal indictment, Mueller must ask the Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, to move forward. If the Trump Appointee denies the request, a mandatory report must be filed from the OSC to Congress. In this way, the legislative branch acts as a check on the OSC as it does for the executive and judicial branches in various ways. Now, a new problem is presented.
If the democratic checks to ensure both independence in the special counsel and that the President abides by the law result in failure, does that effectively place the President above the law with Congress’s permission?
The American experiment often presents new problems out of implemented solutions. In this case, the President’s obligation to the law is in question. While the news cycle provides controversy nearly every day, upcoming weeks will be a harrowing test to President Trump and, more significantly, the nation’s values of democratic consent by the governed. Since the majority of the legislature has all but accepted this administration’s malfeasances, as their consent to govern is up for grabs this November, although it would out of character to cooperate with this “witch hunt.”