In light of Thursday night’s BuzzFeed News report claiming that President Donald Trump instructed his now-former attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations with Russia for a Trump real estate project, the airwaves and the internet have been loaded with discussions about impeachment. While people like former Attorney General Eric Holder, former solicitor general Neal Katyal, and Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) dropped the “I-word,” however, Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe skipped way past that. In a Friday morning tweet, Tribe came right out and suggested prison for the president.
“If this report is accurate,” Tribe said, “Trump committed subornation of perjury, punishable by five years imprisonment under 18 U.S. Code § 1622.”
If this report is accurate, Trump committed subornation of perjury, punishable by five years imprisonment under 18 U.S. Code § 1622. https://t.co/5uBydMX99s
— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) January 18, 2019
Whoever procures another to commit any perjury is guilty of subornation of perjury, and shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.
Tribe certainly has a point when it comes to the appearance of Trump violating the statute based on the report, but it has long been the policy of the Department of Justice not to indict a sitting president. Instead, the Constitution provides for impeachment and removal from office if the president commits “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Once a president is out of office (as a result of removal or otherwise), they would be subject to criminal prosecution.
The Harvard Law professor, however, has argued in the past that this policy of not prosecuting the president is improper. In a December 2018 opinion piece for the Boston Globe, he wrote that the policy “is probably unconstitutional,” because by holding off on criminal proceedings until after a president is removed from office, it allows the vice president to pardon them once they become the new president, just as President Gerald Ford did for President Richard Nixon after Nixon resigned. Tribe assumes that any president would pick a running mate who would be inclined to do the same.
[Image via MSNBC screengrab]