Presidents should be legally held accountable for their actions, during and after their term in office.

Opinions on Debatable Issues #41

Most of the debate centers around whether the president should be penalized during their term. Though the current legal status is that sitting president has immunity and cannot be charged with a crime committed, this should be changed, first of all, considering the increasingly radical presidents we are seeing make limitation on the presidency necessary. An investigation is not enough. 

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Indisputable evidence shows that trump’s “Administration officials and their allies have lied to federal investigators, lied to Congress, and sought to obstruct federal investigations, among other illegal actions”. More evidence was recently disclosed to show Trump’s attorney explicitly pressured Ukraine to manufacture an investigation against Joe Biden during the 2020 presidential race. Any reasonable person would agree those actions must yield consequences. However, in October 2019. President Donald Trump’s lawyer William Consovoy argued that the president can only be investigated but does not have to respond to a subpoena nor be arrested or detained “even for a shooting”, according to The Atlanta.

The Fear Behind Donald Trump's Obsession with Immunity - POLITICO
Politico

In addition, according to The New Yorker, Mueller’s investigation report allegedly found no sufficient evidence to incriminate Trump when he intentionally avoided some important cases that work against trump and avoided confrontation with trump’s administration. It was shady. Even the general attorney William Barr said “Mueller investigation was illegitimate in conception and excessive in execution” and called it “a grave injustice” that was “unprecedented in American history.” This means investigation can easily be manipulated by the president in his favor, so no justice is served. 

In such cases, the investigation is not enough to safeguard our democracy. An investigation is usually carried out by the Justice Department, which is part of the executive branch, meaning the president has direct control over it and can fire anyone at any time. Since the attorney general might be biased, the justice department should not be the only institution that oversees the president. The solution is to hold the president legally accountable through indictment and trial. That means the court can interfere by subpoenaing and trying the president. This allows an independent judge to evaluate the evidence of the investigation, have fierce interrogation of witnesses, and allow a randomly selected jury to reach a verdict.  

List of courts of the United States - Wikipedia
Wikipedia

Another problem of the status quo is that the presidency’s immunity violates the Rule of Law. According to United States Court, Rule of law is the “principle under which all persons, institutions, and entities are accountable to laws that are: Publicly promulgated. Equally enforced. Independently adjudicated. And consistent with international human rights principles”. To become president, one must pledge first and foremost to uphold the Constitution. “These oaths affirm that the rule of law is superior to the rule of any human leader”, according to professor of political science and dean of the University Honors College at Middle Tennessee State University. Since the Rule of Law was made to prevent leaders from abusing their power, it defeats the purpose when the president is immune to any criminal charges. Also, this supreme law of democracy stipulates that all people must follow the law and are subject to consequences. The presidency is no exception. 

Some worry about weakening the power of the executive branch by penalizing its top leaders. However, the US constitution has set up a plan to prepare for this situation. If the presidency has a vacancy, the vice president will take over until a new president is elected. Down the line, we still have a speaker of the house if the vice president is unable to serve, according to the 25th Amendment. 

25th Amendment - Presidential Disability and Succession | The National  Constitution Center
National Constitutional Center

There is less debate over whether a former president can be indicted for conduct that occurred while in office. The Impeachment Judgment Clause says “Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment, and Punishment, according to Law”. This means though the impeachment clause does not directly incur legal consequences, the person that gets impeached still should be subject to the laws and receive corresponding fines or jail time. Also, this idea is not new. Alexander Hamilton explained in The Federalist papers. 65, 69, and 77 that an “offender would still be liable to criminal prosecution in the ordinary course of the law after removal by way of impeachment”. Thus, there is no doubt that the former presidents’ illegal activities during their terms are not immune to the law.  

In short, the president should not have absolute immunity when he or she is in office because leaders must be held accountable and be in compliance with the Rule of Law to keep our democracy healthy and robust. 

What is the job of the U.S. president?
National Geographic Kids

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