Donald Trump’s personal lawyer on Monday made the controversial claim that the President cannot be found guilty of obstruction of justice.
The “President cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer under [the Constitution’s Article II] and has every right to express his view of any case,” John Dowd, who is handling Trump’s defense in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, told Axios.
This is a new assertion for Dowd, who over the weekend took credit for writing a tweet sent from Trump’s personal account that said the President felt compelled to dismiss national security adviser Michael Flynn for lying to Vice President Mike Pence—and the FBI—about his contacts with Russia. Legal observers said that the tweet, which was written in Trump’s characteristic bombastic style, strengthened the case that Trump knowingly obstructed justice when he later dismissed FBI Director James Comey.
Trump’s legal team offered a string of rapidly changing explanations for the message. Dowd at first said that the tweet simply paraphrased language in a statement issued by White House special counsel Ty Cobb about Flynn pleading guilty to one count of lying to federal agents. Dowd later said that he drafted the message and White House social media director Dan Scavino posted it.
“The tweet did not admit obstruction,” Dowd insisted to Axios. “That is an ignorant and arrogant assertion.”
Contrary to the veteran D.C. lawyer’s claim, it is not settled law that the president cannot be accused of obstructing federal probes. The articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon accused him of helping impede investigations into the Watergate break-in.
It is not the first time Trump and his supporters have claimed that he is above the law. Shortly after his election, Trump said that he wasn’t legally obliged to sever ties with his businesses because “the president can’t have a conflict of interest.” The Constitution bans elected officials from accepting payments from foreign governments and engaging in bribery and fraud.