For those following along on many major news sites on Wednesday, President Donald Trump’s lawyer William Consovoy apparently told federal judges that if a president shot people on Fifth Avenue, not only could he not be indicted, but he could not even be investigated.
This was not, in fact, what happened: Consovoy immediately apologized for creating this impression for the judges, clarifying that state officials might investigate, but could not subpoena, a sitting president. Consovoy was raising a valid concern about a “proliferation” of partisan state prosecutions burdening a president. While his argument for total immunity from state process went too far, he was making an important argument for federal jurisdiction to review state subpoenas of a president, which should be sufficient to prevent abuses.
But it was earlier in Consovoy’s answers—overlooked by the media and the judges themselves—that his arguments backed into a more practical and immediate danger…
[Further down in the piece…]
This brings us to my surprise when I realized that Consovoy and his lawyers quoted a blog post I had written on this question in their brief, on page 7: “All you need is one prosecutor, one trial judge, the barest amount of probable cause, and a supportive local constituency, and you can shut down a presidency.” Trump’s lawyers actually cut off the end of that sentence without providing the required ellipsis. My sentence ended, “You can shut down a presidency with a criminal trial or two or two dozen.” They misleadingly left out my distinction between indictment and trial. But even so, I was wrong 18 months ago when I also suggested a sitting president “generally” could not be indicted absent a clear and present danger. It seemed like the Department of Justice was functioning under pressure. I was naive. A year ago, I retracted after more research on statutes of limitations.