“Oh, that was a fun day in class,” student Madison White said about the subpoena discussion.
The instructors were frank about the challenges they faced in the wrangling to get President Donald Trump to speak in person and on the record. The president had submitted written responses to questions through his attorneys, but the investigative team found them largely unenlightening, they told the class.
To move Trump any further would require a legal order to appear. But the lawyers suspected that would end up in the courts and take many months to resolve.
“It would have been heavily litigated,” White said, potentially wasting time and resources. “And nobody was sure how helpful that testimony would have even been.”
The instructors asked the students what they thought the right course of action would have been. The students were split. Such discussions led them to think about the political implications of every move. Should a special counsel’s office, appointed to the task by the Department of Justice and not elected, reach judgments about whether a democratically elected president committed a crime?
Mathai noted that President Bill Clinton, who was investigated related to sexual impropriety in the Oval Office, perjured himself while honoring a subpoena to appear before a grand jury, leading to his impeachment for perjury and obstruction of justice – a cautionary tale for any president. Clinton was ultimately acquitted.
The Clinton investigation was conducted under an independent counsel, which was authorized under the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 and had more independent authority than today’s special counsel does. The independent counsel statute expired in 1999. In its absence, the special counsel regulations took its place.