Will Joe Biden indict Donald Trump? Former Robert Mueller prosecutor Andrew Weissmann demands 'accountability'
'The precedent that you’re setting in the future is don’t bother appointing a special counsel because there isn’t going to be any accountability to a president who obstructs that investigation,' Weissmann put it straight
Contrary to public perception, succeeding administrations prefer not to spend too much time digging up the deeds of the previous ones, particularly in robust democracies where rules of law and institutions command utmost respect. When Barack Obama took office in 2009, he did not want to get involved in the scandals of the previous administration led by George W Bush and also ignored the issue of the former President's torturing of the prisoners of war captured during the prolonged battles in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Likewise, Obama’s former No. 2 and President-elect Joe Biden, who is set to take over as the president on January 20, told his campaign allies that he doesn’t prefer that his entire administration deals with the controversies centered on the outgoing incumbent, Donald Trump. But according to some legal experts, Biden might have to eventually go after the maverick Republican, thanks to the level of lawlessness that his times in the office witnessed.
Andrew Weissmann, the former senior prosecutor for special counsel Robert Mueller who oversaw a probe into allegations of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, on Wednesday, November 18, told MSNBC’s Ali Velshi that with Trump, the situation is different from any other incumbent in the long history of American presidency.
“We’re going to be, as of January 20th, 2021, in the situation where we no longer are talking about indicting the president but, rather, a former president, somebody who is a civilian,” he said.
“And the question’s going to be: Does the rule of law apply to that person? And it’s very hard to see an argument if it is shown, for instance, that in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office that the president has committed tens of millions of dollars of tax fraud or bank fraud or both. Any other person would normally be prosecuted, then it really shouldn’t be the case that just because he becomes president, that he shouldn’t have the day in court where a jury decides whether or not he committed those crimes prior to becoming president.”
Weissmann, whose book ‘Where Law Ends: Inside the Mueller Investigation’ got released in September, felt all special counsel probes in the future will become meaningless if Trump was not prosecuted for obstructing justice. He told the channel that one must not forget that the Mueller report produced substantial evidence that the president obstructed justice or rather, “obstructed the special counsel investigation” and for him, that is more important to vindicate.
“If you are not going to hold a president accountable for a special counsel investigation obstruction, then there’s no reason to actually have a special counsel in the future. In other words, the precedent that you’re setting in the future is don’t bother appointing a special counsel because there isn’t going to be any accountability to a president who obstructs that investigation,” Weissmann put it straight. The Mueller report said it had not established that Trump's campaign criminally conspired with Russia to influence the 2016 election. Trump constantly attacked the probe as a witch hunt and was ecstatic after the findings were revealed. Mueller, however, said that the report had not exonerated the president but added that legal guidelines prevented indictment of a sitting commander-in-chief.
Will putting Trump on trial mean putting his supporters on trial too?
But will putting Trump, who still got the backing of 72 million voters in the November 3 election, also mean putting his supporters on trial? Weissmann refused to agree.
“You know, I think that’s looking at it the wrong way,” he said, adding: “Remember, a jury is going to have to make the decision and is going to have to find proof beyond a reasonable doubt in the same way any other defendant is entitled to all of the due process rights that we have in this country. And Donald Trump, if he were to be indicted, whether federally or by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, would enjoy all of those same rights in the same way, for instance, that Paul Manafort went to trial and a jury made up of citizens from a cross-section of the community made a decision regardless of politics, whether someone’s a Democrat or a Republican, just on the facts and the law. And Donald Trump would face the same kind of jury making that determination.”
The leading prosecutor has also in the past spoken out on Trump’s dubious financial records, saying there were more questions that were unanswered related to the topic.
The outgoing president is set to face several suits on the state and civil levels once his term ends, even without any indictment of the justice department in the Biden administration. The next president could also face a moral pressure to indict his predecessor because, as Raw Story has put it, he has been elected by many Americans who voted against Trump (75 million) and if he ignores the latter’s lawlessness, he could disappoint those voters and hurt his own chances of getting re-elected four years later.