Senator Elizabeth Warren on Friday called for an end to the longstanding policy that bars presidents from being indicted, aiming squarely at Justice Department rules cited by former Special Counsel Robert Mueller this week in reviewing his decision not to criminally charge President Trump.
“No matter what he may think, Donald Trump is not a King. No President is,” the Massachusetts Democrat wrote. “And our democracy only works if everyone can be held accountable.”
The once-obscure policy, issued by the Justice Department during Watergate and reaffirmed in 2000, holds that indicting a sitting president would unconstitutionally interfere with the duties of the executive branch.
Writing in a Medium post, Warren called on Congress to pass laws clarifying that a president can be indicted by the Justice Department and to amend obstruction of justice statutes to ensure they can be applied to presidents who abuse their power. She also vowed to appoint Justice Department officials, including an attorney general, who share her belief that a president can be indicted and who would reverse the department’s opinion on the issue.
“If Donald Trump were anyone other than the President of the United States, he would be in handcuffs and indicted,” Warren wrote. She added, with a nod to her presidential campaign’s signature tagline: “That’s why I’ve got a plan to make sure that no president is above the law.”
It is the latest in a series of policy proposals that have helped Warren excite liberal voters and electrify her bid for the Democratic nomination. Most of those policies have dealt with systemic issues in politics and government — and not so directly addressed an issue related to Trump.
“Donald Trump believes that he can violate the law, and he believes that the role of the Department of Justice is to help him get away with it. That’s not how our country is supposed to work,” Warren wrote.
The plan would apply to Warren, if she were elected, and future presidents, but Warren’s post did not say whether or not she believes Trump should be charged after he leaves office. An aide to Warren said that decision should be up to career prosecutors.
The Justice Department’s opinion became a flashpoint in Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 elections and Trump’s attempts to stymie that investigation. Mueller emphasized the opinion this week as he made his first public statement about his report and said he was bound by that policy.
“Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider,” Mueller said, adding, “The Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.”
That was interpreted by many Democrats as a reference to impeachment. Warren was the first Democratic presidential candidate to call for impeachment, although many more contenders have now joined the chorus.
“That’s why I came out in favor of impeachment after reading all 448 pages of Mueller’s report,” Warren wrote Friday. “But impeachment isn’t supposed to be the only way that a President can be held accountable for committing a crime.”