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Prosecuting the PresidentHow Special Prosecutors Hold Presidents Accountable and Protect the Rule of Law$
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Andrew Coan

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780190943868

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190943868.001.0001

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Can the President Be Charged with a Crime?

Can the President Be Charged with a Crime?

(p.111) 6 Can the President Be Charged with a Crime?
Prosecuting the President

Andrew Coan

Oxford University Press

What if a sitting president accepted illegal foreign campaign donations or sought to obstruct an ongoing federal investigation? Could he be charged with a crime? The conventional wisdom is no, but the Constitution is silent on this question, no court has ever decided it, and there are respectable arguments on both sides. This chapter recounts these arguments and the intense debates they provoked among the young lawyers working for past special prosecutors. Ultimately, both Leon Jaworski and Ken Starr chose not to indict the president. Future prosecutors are likely to follow the same course. This does not mean that special prosecutors are powerless to hold the president accountable for violating the law. But if they are to do so, the American people have a central—and daunting—role to play. Once again, the last, best hope for the rule of law is not judges or lawyers but democratic politics.

Keywords:   Watergate, Richard Nixon, Leon Jaworski, Kenneth Starr, Philip Lacovara, Indictment, Impeachment, Bill Clinton

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