The latest news that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is considering subpoenaing President Donald Trump to appear before a grand jury raised a host of legal issues that a CNN panel discussed Tuesday night on Anderson Cooper 360. Harvard Law Professor Emeritus Alan Dershowitz and former FBI agent Asha Rangappa agreed that appearing before a grand jury is not something that would be particularly good for Trump, but that’s pretty much all they agreed on during the segment. Things got pretty heated.
Dershowitz said that if Mueller issues a subpoena and Trump fights it, a federal district court would decide which issues Mueller could address when questioning Trump before the grand jury. He said that some questions regarding Trump’s motives, reasons, or intentions are beyond the grand jury’s power. He added that a judge might also refuse to let Mueller ask questions with the sole intention to trying to induce perjury.
“The interesting question is whether or not the argument that I’ve made, that you can’t call a subject into a grand jury in order to give him an opportunity to commit perjury, you have to do it in order to get information you don’t already have, whether that kind of argument will prevail, it could go both ways.”
Cooper and Rangappa both noted that prosecutors regularly ask questions that they already know the answers to while before a grand jury.
Rangappa went on to disagree with Dershowitz’s take that Trump can’t be forced to answer questions regarding his motives or intentions, as those cut to whether he may be guilty of obstruction, which requires the necessary intent.
Dershowitz insisted that while such questions are certainly relevant, they’re still not permitted.
“You can’t ask a Senator or Congressman to explain their vote,” he gave as an example.
Rangappa quickly cut him off.
“Alan, U.S. v. Nixon says that it’s not privileged if it’s not a legitimate policy, decision making, or national security-related. If it’s evidence of a crime, it can be pierced.”
Dershowitz maintained that motives are still privileged when it comes to actions the president takes within his power, such as firing James Comey, because if Trump has the authority to take a particular action, “he has the authority to do it for any reason.”
“It’s not that it’s not relevant, it’s that privilege trumps relevance,” he said.
[Image via CNN screengrab]