President Donald Trump has many verbal ticks that often act as tells about what he is really thinking or doing. For example, CNN fact-checker Daniel Dale has argued that when the president tells a story in which someone calls him “sir,” he’s usually lying. Another tell is that when Trump refers to a true fact that “no one ever knew” or that “people have no idea about,” it almost certainly means that the president himself just learned about this fact, even though it’s widely known.
Trump indulged in this tick during a gaggle with the press Friday morning when discussing the House of Representative’s ongoing efforts to get witnesses and officials involved in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation to testify.
Yet again, the president tried to argue that all the questions raised by the Mueller report about Trump’s ties to Russia and his potential obstruction of the investigation were moot.
“[Former Deputy Attorney General] Rod Rosenstein and [Attorney General] Bill Barr said there’s no obstruction,” Trump told reporters. “And also interesting: Number one, there’s no crime. And how do you obstruct when there’s no crime? Also, take a look at one other thing. It’s a thing called ‘Article II.’ Nobody ever mentions Article II. It gives me all of these rights at a level that nobody has ever seen before. We don’t even talk about Article II. So: They ruled no collusion, no obstruction. Very simple.”
There were many things wrong in these brief comments.
First, you can obstruct justice even if there was no underlying crime to be discovered; the law is written to allow for that possibility. Second, there were many crimes that Trump may have been trying to cover up by obstructing justice, including the criminal lies of his subordinates and his own involvement in a criminal hush money scheme during the 2016 election.
And with regard to “Article II,” Trump is referring to the second article of the Constitution that lays out presidential power. In fact, this is discussed all the time in politics, and it has come up frequently throughout Mueller’s investigation and in the aftermath of former FBI Director James Comey’s firing. Trump’s claim that “nobody ever mentions” it and that it gives him authorities and rights to act that “nobody has ever seen before” suggests that he has only recently become aware of Article II, its provision, and the debates over its scope.
Bringing it up in this context, Trump seems to be referring to an argument made most prominently by legal scholar Alan Dershowitz that presidents cannot obstruct justice by using the powers granted to them in Article II. Dershowitz’ view seems to be relatively idiosyncratic in the legal profession — most scholars likely wouldn’t buy this argument — but it’s worth considering. One person who did consider this argument, though, is Mueller. He argued forcefully in his report that president’s can, in fact, obstruct justice using presidential authorities if they do so with corrupt intent. Moreover, some of the acts of potential obstruction of justice that Mueller describes don’t even involve Trump’s presidential powers, so this argument may not even be relevant to many of the key episodes under scrutiny.
Watch the clip of Trump’s comments below: