Presidential abuse of power

President Trump on Tuesday casually offered to “destroy” the career of a state senator who a Texas sheriff said he had problems with.

Nixon said. ‘[W]hen the president does it, that means it is not illegal.’ But isn’t it? Are there any laws preventing a U.S. president from abusing his or her power?

Please note that Nixon resigned before he could be impeached and removed from office … perhaps his beliefs aren’t the best source of what a President can or cannot do …

The US Constitution certainly has provisions that prevent the abuse of power … e.g. Article I Section 1 “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States” … so if Congress passed a law that says the President has to have a search warrant to tap the DNC’s phone lines … and the President taps without a warrant, that is an abuse of power … I doubt there’s a separate law that says even the President can’t do this …

Checks and balances … with clear separation of these powers …

It doesn’t say that a President cannot use his or her Power of Office to take adverse action against a citizen. I recall that the governor of Texas was charged with Abuse of Power a couple of years ago, so at least in Texas there is such a law. My question is whether there is a law that, in effect, says ‘The President shall not use the Power of Office to penalise a citizen or other person or persons enjoying the protections of the laws of the United States, who exercise their rights under the U.S. Constitution.’

Problem with this OP is that “abuse of power” is too ill-defined. It’s unclear what exactly Trump had in mind in terms of destroying the guy’s career, but I can’t imagine that destroying someone’s career is in and of itself illegal or an “abuse of power”. It would depend on what the guy (Trump) did to accomplish that.

The general point being that it’s likely that most instances of “abuse of power” are either covered by other laws or not illegal.

Given the vagueness of “abuse of power,” let’s move this to Great Debates.

General Questions Moderator

If the President breaks criminal law, the Attorney General can appoint a special prosecutor (if it’s federal law) or state authorities can pursue an ordinary criminal case. If he acts beyond his authority, a federal court can issue an injunction. Directing political resources to work for an adversary’s defeat is not generally illegal, of course, but obviously the specter of presidential authority lends an air of intimidation.

This incident sounds like Trump making a terrible, impulsive joke, one which will probably be an evergreen among his opponents. Opinion writers on the right consistently tried to make hay with Obama’s joke about sending the IRS after someone, and Trump is probably similarly going to find that this remark will follow him, because it sounds so bad.

As near as I can tell you cannot prosecute a sitting president. At least it is not a settled matter (I think it was decided Bill Clinton could potentially be prosecuted for an alleged crime that occurred before he took office). Beyond that there is really no way to prosecute the president of the United States while he/she is in office.

The only remedy is impeachment and congress can impeach for anything at all (or choose to ignore anything as well). Once out of office prosecution becomes possible.

It is an open question as to whether the president can pardon himself but I bet Trump would be happy to try if it came to it.

I think a ‘reasonable person’ understands what abuse of power is, even if it is ill-defined. For example: An office holder has the power of his or her office. He (I’ll use that pronoun) decides he doesn’t like someone, and uses the power of his office to harass or otherwise harm this person, when he would not have the power to do so if he did not hold the office. A reasonable person would say that’s an abuse of power. I did find this:

This is exactly why there are laws. No two “reasonable people” have the same understanding of any ill-defined action.

The people have a right to protest and demand that action be taken. Other than insurrection, however, that taken action has to be within the existing body of rules, laws, and institutions.

There is one Constitutional action applicable to the President while in office: Impeachment. Other than that, a President could be voted out of office at the next election.

What exactly would you want the law to be? Suspend the President’s allowance? Give him a time out? Make him stand in the corner? Remove his Twitter privileges? There’s no provision in law for a President’s Mommy. And there shouldn’t be.

Seems to me he gets whatever punishment the law provides for (assuming he could be prosecuted which I do not think he can be while in office).

Nothing says you can’t be president from jail.

And of course a fine works too.

See post #3.

You’re talking about penalties, which is not in the General Question. The GQ is whether there are laws against a President from Malfeasance in Office (‘Abuse of Power’), as there are against other public officials.

Destroying someone’s political career seems like something a politicians should be allowed to do. Its a shitty thing to do but it doesn’t seem illegal to threaten a politician with political death for failing to fall in line.

I’m pretty sure that Johnson threatened to destroy a politician’s career every day of his presidency.

The difference between Nixon’s time and now is that back then some members of Congress still possessed personal integrity. Not any more. They’re all spineless, witless, brainless, soulless cogs in the Republican machinery that’s being cranked by McConnell and Ryan.

It is fine if all he does is say he thinks that guy is a bad guy and no one should vote for him. It is an abuse of power if he uses his office to sway people (e.g. he won’t declare something a disaster area after a disaster unless the they remove the guy from a particular committee).

I dont think that is settled yet. No clear definition of “High Crimes and Misdemeanors”. Certainly the House can indict, but if the Senate convicts on say a Parking ticket, SCOTUS would be asked to rule.

I think it’s just a question of material participation or just blowing hot air … if The Donald ordered the FBI to tap this state senator’s phone without a warrant … that’s a material abuse of power … if The Donald is just saying this senator needs to be removed from office … that might not be illegal … I guess the question is does being President suspend a person’s Free Speech Rights …

Note that the GQ, as I tried to clarify in post #3, does not specify the President targeting a politician. It applies to private citizens as well.

It doesn’t matter. The only sanction is impeachment, no matter how you word it.

No the SCOTUS would not.

There is no appeals process to impeachment and conviction.

Impeachment has always been meant as a purely political process. They can impeach because they don’t like his tie and there is no remedy to stop it.

That said there may well be a high political cost. Even if not that is a helluva bridge to cross and while we have been getting closer (see Bill Clinton) there are still enough politicians who would not take such a thing lightly.