Andrew Weissmann, a former prosecutor on the special counsel Robert Mueller's team, said President Donald Trump should be investigated and, if warranted, prosecuted for federal crimes after leaving the White House.
"Mr. Trump's criminal exposure is clear," Weissmann wrote in a New York Times op-ed, adding that Mueller's team gathered "ample evidence" to show Trump obstructed justice in the Russia investigation.
Weissmann also said that two New York state investigations from the Manhattan district attorney's office and the New York attorney general's office "may well reveal evidence warranting additional federal charges."
"In short, being president should mean you are more accountable, not less, to the rule of law," he wrote.
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The special counsel Robert Mueller's top lieutenant in the Russia investigation said this week that President Donald Trump should be investigated and potentially prosecuted for criminal conduct after he leaves office in January.
"As painful and hard as it may be for the country, I believe the next attorney general should investigate Mr. Trump and, if warranted, prosecute him for potential federal crimes," the former federal prosecutor Andrew Weissmann wrote in a New York Times op-ed.
Weissmann added that Mueller's investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 US election yielded "ample evidence" that the president obstructed justice throughout the course of the inquiry by threatening to fire Mueller and dangling pardons to associates who were ensnared in his probe.
"We saw Mr. Trump use his clemency power to do just that with, for example, his ally Roger Stone. He commuted Mr. Stone's sentence, who was duly convicted by a jury but never spent a day in jail for crimes that a federal judge found were committed for the president," Weissmann wrote. "The same judge found that Paul Manafort, a former Trump campaign chairman, lied to us repeatedly, breaching his cooperation agreement. He, too, was surely holding out hope for a dangled pardon."
In the end, Mueller's team did not charge the president with obstruction of justice and cited a 1973 Office of Legal Counsel memo that said a sitting president cannot be indicted. Mueller's report also said it would be "unfair" for the special counsel to even suggest Trump committed a crime, given that DOJ policy holds that the issue couldn't legally be resolved. Moreover, the report said, accusing Trump of criminal wrongdoing but not charging him would deprive him of the chance to defend himself in court.
However, the special counsel's office noted, "If we had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so."
Weissmann wrote in his op-ed that there are other investigations that could reveal potential criminal conduct on Trump's part. In particular, he pointed to two New York state investigations into the president's financial dealings. One, conducted by the Manhattan district attorney's office, is examining whether the Trump Organization violated state laws when it facilitated an illegal $130,000 hush-money payment to the adult film actress Stormy Daniels shortly before the 2016 election.
The New York attorney general's office is also conducting a broad civil investigation into the Trump Organization's business practices.
"The Manhattan district attorney is by all appearances conducting a classic white-collar investigation into tax and bank fraud, and the New York attorney general is engaged in a civil investigation into similar allegations, which could quickly turn into a criminal inquiry," Weissmann wrote in his op-ed. "These state matters may well reveal evidence warranting additional federal charges. Such potential financial crimes were not explored by the special counsel investigation and could reveal criminal evidence."
He added: "Any evidence that was not produced to Congress in its inquiries, like internal State Department and White House communications, is another potential trove to which the new administration should have access."
Weissmann has been open about his frustration over the Russia investigation, and in particular the special counsel's decision not to charge the president with obstruction. In his book, "Where Law Ends: Inside the Mueller Investigation," and in later interviews, Weissmann said Mueller let the public down by not indicting Trump.
"There's no question I was frustrated at the time," he told The Atlantic. "There was more that could be done that we didn't do." He added that the Senate Intelligence Committee did a better job reaching concrete conclusions in its recent report detailing the panel's own investigation into Russian election meddling.
"Even with 1,000 pages, it was better," he said. "It made judgments and calls, instead of saying, 'You could say this and you could say that.'"
In his Times op-ed, Weissmann acknowledged the possibility that Trump may pardon his associates, family members, and even himself before leaving office to avoid criminal exposure. If he does so, other states should step in "to see that the rule of law is upheld," and the new attorney general should investigate the legality of a "self-pardon."
"In short, being president should mean you are more accountable, not less, to the rule of law," he concluded.
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