Democratic Presidential candidate US Senator Kamala Harris speaks during National Action Network 2019 convention at Sheraton Times Square. (lev radin/Shutterstock.com)
Presidential hopeful Kamala Harris has joined the chorus of voices within the Democratic Party calling for presidential accountability, possible impeachment, and, most importantly, prosecution on obstruction of justice charges based on the findings of the Mueller report. While the Mueller team did not conclusively recommend obstruction charges against President Donald Trump, the report outlined a number of instances where certain inappropriate conduct could constitute obstruction.
In reaching their decision, the special counsel’s team followed a 1973 memo from President Nixon’s legal counsel that determined a sitting president cannot face criminal charges. This guidance informed Mueller’s decision to pass the issue of obstruction for adjudication to the legislative branch.
Harris is now doubling down on the proposition that if President Trump is defeated in 2020, and she wins the presidency, her Department of Justice (DOJ) would move to prosecute Trump on obstruction charges.
In a discussion with the NPR Politics Podcast, Harris outlined her position on Trump, obstruction, and prosecution. She spoke with the podcast during the midst of the Iowa Democratic Party’s Hall of Fame Celebration on June 9. The event drew 19 presidential hopefuls and took place in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Harris, a former San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general, ended her speech to the gathering with a call to “prosecute the case” politically against the Trump Administration. She pointed to Trump’s efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and his continued denial about the documented Russian operations to interfere with the 2016 Presidential election.
For Harris, a strong economy would not shield Trump from charges of misconduct. She instead stressed the importance of accountability — a concept she has located at the center of her career and her run for the presidency. She told NPR that presidents cannot be exempt from accountability.
Harris is undaunted by the prospect of prosecuting a former president. She believes that the Mueller report cites 10 specific instances of obstruction, but the special counsel’s office deferred from making the final determination on whether those instances amounted to obstruction. On that basis, Harris believes that “the facts and evidence will take the process where it leads.” She also believes the president is not above the law. Citing the inscription of “Equal Justice Under Law” on the façade of the US Supreme Court, she opined the etching makes no exceptions, not even for a former president, according to NPR.
This is not the first time Harris has broadcast this position. Last month, she tweeted that, in addition to the DOJ memo, what Mueller did in his statement was to “basically return an impeachment referral.” Harris went further and noted, “It is up to the Congress to hold this president accountable.”
Advocates of prosecuting the president would confront statutory limitations. The statute of limitations for obstruction charges, in federal cases, is five years from the time of the alleged crime. The time limit for conspiracy cases begins at the time of the last act in an alleged conspiracy, according to Time.
The release of the 448-page Mueller Report has accelerated calls for impeachment from 2020 hopefuls and an intensification of the House investigations into the Trump administration. Attorney General Robert Barr’s actions in late March helped fuel the increased calls for scrutiny when he released a 4-page summary of the report that seemed to absolve Trump of all wrongdoing.
After outcry from Democrats and the public, the DOJ released a heavily redacted Mueller report in April that furthered the skepticism of Barr’s claims and led some critics to accuse him of obscuring Mueller’s findings.
Special Counsel Mueller’s statement on the report on May 29 indicated that the law and DOJ policy prevented him from charging President Trump with obstruction. In his public statement, Mueller said, “The opinion says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a president of wrongdoing.” Vox interpreted his remarks as signalling that “Congress is the body that gets to decide whether Trump obstructed justice.”
After the release of Mueller’s report and his statement in May, a number of 2020 hopefuls joined the call for impeachment including Senators Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillabrand, and Cory Booker. House colleagues also raised their voices in support of impeachment, including presidential hopefuls Seth Moulton and Eric Smalwell.
Not all Democrats support impeachment. Notably, Joe Biden, the current frontrunner in the Democratic presidential field, has sided with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi who believes impeachment should be a last resort. She has endorsed the strategy of investigating the president using the House committee structure. Bernie Sanders has also taken a more cautious position on impeachment, although he is on record as saying he would support the House Judiciary Committee if they decided to open an impeachment inquiry, according to Vox.
In the wake of Harris’ statement and the growing calls to launch an impeachment inquiry, Nancy Pelosi and the chairpersons of major House committees still plan to pursue an investigative role to build a strong evidentiary basis for any subsequent prosecution.
About the Author
Stephen G. Hall is a sections editor for The North Star. He is a historian specializing in 19th and 20th century African American and American intellectual, social and cultural history and the African Diaspora. Hall is the author of A Faithful Account of the Race: African American Historical Writing in Nineteenth-Century America and is working on a new book exploring the scholarly production of Black historians on the African Diaspora from 1885 to 1960.