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Former White House officials under both Republican and Democratic administrations took aim May 17 at President Donald Trump’s alleged interference with a federal investigation into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 presidential election.
Trump allegedly asked former FBI director James Comey to stop an investigation into links between former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Russia, according to a New York Times story based on reports of a memo written by Comey. Democrats in Congress have suggested that such interference could be an impeachable offense.
Such interference wouldn’t have happened in George W. Bush’s White House, Michael B. Mukasey, who served as attorney general under Bush and also as chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, said at a panel discussion.
An informal conversation about an ongoing proceeding might be appropriate in a corporate workplace concerning a minor disciplinary matter, but not in the White House regarding a criminal investigation, he said.
Trump’s purported inability to distinguish the two is “extraordinary,” he said.
It’s a “critical norm” for presidents to stay out of criminal investigations so that law enforcement decisions aren’t politicized, panelist Neil Eggleston, former White House counsel under President Barack Obama, said.
Eggleston spent an “enormous” amount of time policing that norm as White House counsel, he said.
If the public starts to believe that law enforcement decisions are being made based on politics rather than on the merits, then “our society is in a very difficult state,” he said.
The panel discussion, “The Unitary Executive through Presidents Bush, Obama, and Trump” was hosted by the Federalist Society during its Executive Branch Review Conference.
Mukasey is of counsel at Debevoise & Plimpton, New York. Eggleston is a partner at Kirkland & Ellis LLP, Washington.
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