Jan 21, 2020

2018 Barr memo counters Trump's claim that abuse of power is unimpeachable

William Barr. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

A 2018 memo by now-Attorney General William Barr contradicts President Trump's legal argument that abuse of power is not alone an impeachable offense.

What we know: Barr issued the memo for the Justice Department and Trump's legal team while still in private practice. The 19-page document was written as Robert Mueller conducted his special investigation into whether Trump illegally interfered in the Russia probe.

  • Barr argued in the memo that Trump should not speak to investigators about his actions as president, even if subpoenaed. He based his recommendation "on a sweeping theory of executive power under which obstruction of justice laws do not apply to presidents, even if they misuse their authority over the Justice Department to block investigations into themselves or their associates for corrupt reasons," the New York Times writes.
  • However, Barr wrote that presidents who abuse their discretionary powers could be subject to penalties, including impeachment.
  • The memo posed that because the president "is ultimately subject to the judgment of Congress through the impeachment process means that the president is not the judge in his own cause."
  • The memo was made public during Barr's confirmation.

Why it matters: Trump's legal team argued in a 110-page brief this Monday that "House Democrats’ novel conception of ‘abuse of power’ as a supposedly impeachable offense is constitutionally defective."

  • "It supplants the framers’ standard of ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ with a made-up theory that the president can be impeached and removed from office under an amorphous and undefined standard of 'abuse of power.'"

Read Barr's memo here:

Go deeper: Live updates: Senators debate rules of Trump impeachment trial

Go deeper

Trump hits back at Mattis: "I gave him a new life"

President Trump speaks at the White House. Photo: Doug Mills - Pool/Getty Images

President Trump unloaded on his former defense secretary via Twitter on Wednesday, hours after James Mattis condemned him for making a "mockery of our Constitution" in his response to mass protests in the wake of George Floyd's killing.

What he's saying: "Probably the only thing Barack Obama & I have in common is that we both had the honor of firing Jim Mattis, the world’s most overrated General. I asked for his letter of resignation, & felt great about it. His nickname was 'Chaos', which I didn’t like, & changed it to 'Mad Dog'"

Obama praises young protesters, urges mayors to pursue police reforms

Former President Barack Obama called on all mayors to review their use-of-force policies and commit to policing reform in a virtual town hall Wednesday hosted by the Obama Foundation's My Brothers Keepers Alliance.

Why it matters: Obama has addressed the killing of George Floyd and the nationwide protests that followed on social media and in a Medium post, but this was his first time speaking about the past week's events on camera. His voice will add weight to the growing pressure on local, state and federal officials to pursue policing reforms.

James Mattis condemns Trump as a threat to the Constitution

Mattis on Fox in Septemnber 2019 in New York City. Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

Former Secretary of Defense James Mattis condemned President Trump for making a "mockery of our Constitution" in a statement to The Atlantic on Wednesday, saying he was "appalled" at the president's response to mass protests in the wake of George Floyd's killing.

Why it matters: Trump’s former defense secretary had refrained from publicly criticizing his former boss since resigning in 2018.