Michael S. Schmidt, Maggie Haberman, Charlie Savage and Matt Apuzzo report at NYT:
President Trump’s lawyers have for months quietly waged a campaign to keep the special counsel from trying to force him to answer questions in the investigation into whether he obstructed justice, asserting that he cannot be compelled to testify and arguing in a confidential letter that he could not possibly have committed obstruction because he has unfettered authority over all federal investigations.
In a brash assertion of presidential power, the 20-page letter — sent to the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and obtained by The New York Times — contends that the president cannot illegally obstruct any aspect of the investigation into Russia’s election meddling because the Constitution empowers him to, “if he wished, terminate the inquiry, or even exercise his power to pardon.”
[Read the Trump lawyers’ confidential memo to Mr. Mueller here.]
“Of course, the president of the United States is not above the law, but just as obvious and equally as true is the fact that the president should not be subjected to strained readings and forced applications of clearly irrelevant statutes,” Mr. Dowd and Mr. Sekulow wrote.
But the lawyers based those arguments on an outdated statute, without mentioning that Congress passed a broader law in 2002 that makes it a crime to obstruct proceedings that have not yet started.
Samuel W. Buell, a Duke Law School professor and white-collar criminal law specialist who was a lead prosecutor for the Justice Department’s Enron task force, said the real issue was whether Mr. Trump obstructed a potential grand jury investigation or trial — which do count as proceedings — even if the F.B.I. investigation had not yet developed into one of those. He called it inexplicable why the president’s legal team was making arguments that were focused on the wrong obstruction-of-justice statute.
It's not exactly confidence inspiring on the part of @realDonaldTrump's lawyers that their statutory (as opposed to constitutional) analysis is focused on the _wrong_ federal obstruction-of-justice statute—18 U.S.C. § 1505 instead of 18 U.S.C. § 1512:https://t.co/4ZZ2jQ0Qrs https://t.co/EmKbvB25ES— Steve Vladeck (@steve_vladeck) June 2, 2018