Speaker Nancy Pelosi endorsed changing federal law to specify that a sitting president can be indicted, even as she indicated she was no closer to moving to impeach President Donald Trump.
In an interview with NPR published Friday, Pelosi argued that despite a Justice Department legal opinion asserting the contrary, “there is nothing any place that says the president should not be indicted.”
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That longstanding opinion from DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel took center stage in the political universe beginning this spring, when former special counsel Robert Mueller released his report detailing the findings of his investigation into Russian election interference and whether Trump obstructed justice in the probe.
Mueller specifically cited the OLC opinion in his report, saying he would not have brought an indictment against the president regardless of what his probe uncovered and never intended to determine whether Trump committed a crime. Mueller’s ambiguity touched off a heated battle in the halls of Congress, fracturing Democrats over whether the caucus should impeach Trump.
Though more than half of Pelosi’s caucus is in favor of pursuing impeachment, including House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, whose committee has begun proceedings, the speaker has remained adamant that the conditions are not yet ripe.
“I do think that we will have to pass some laws that will have clarity for future presidents,” she said, contending that a “president should be indicted, if he’s committed a wrongdoing — any president.”
The California Democrat asserted that any suggestion that it was unconstitutional to indict a sitting president was pure spin.
“That’s something cooked up by the president’s lawyers,” Pelosi said. “That’s what that is. But so that people will feel ‘Okay, well, if he, if he does something wrong, should be able to be indicted.'”
She argued that the issue’s absence from the Constitution was not a signal into what its framers felt about charging a president with a crime — only that they could not have envisioned a president who acted with such reckless abandon for the office and its co-equal branches of government.
“The founders could never suspect that a president would be so abusive of the Constitution of the United States, that the separation of powers would be irrelevant to him and that he would continue, any president would continue, to withhold facts from the Congress, which part of the constitutional right of inquiry,” she said.
Still, Pelosi indicated that she hadn’t budged in her opposition to impeaching Trump, maintaining that her colleagues would continue its array of oversight investigations and then follow “the facts and the law.” But her opposition has faced fresh brushback and calls for Trump’s removal following reports of a whistleblower complaint from the intelligence community said to revolve around Trump’s making a “promise” to a foreign leader regarding Ukraine.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has refused to turn over the whistleblower complaint to lawmakers, leaving news reports about its contents as the only insight into what it contains, Pelosi called the situation “very alarming,” even for Trump’s administration.
“This is in a different class in terms of [Trump’s] behavior,” she said, noting that Trump himself had appointed the inspector general who deemed the complaint “urgent” and credible to begin with.
She also argued that the agency’s whistleblower statute is clear, and that the information must be submitted to the intelligence committees in Congress. “Right now they are breaking the law” by not providing that information, she said.
While she was on the subject of changing laws that would rein in the president, Pelosi also backed clarifying the limits of acting unilaterally under the guise of national security.
Trump has used national emergency declarations throughout his presidency to make an end run around Congress from everything from imposing tariffs to redirecting already-appropriated funding to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“The president should not be able to interpret the National Security Act as something that gives him free reign to do anything he wants by his personal declaration that something is an emergency,” she told NPR.