Sen. Elizabeth Warren said Friday that she would seek to reverse a long-standing Department of Justice policy that prevents the indictment of a sitting president and push Congress to amend the law to make it clear that presidents can be charged with crimes.
Warren’s proposals were the latest of the policy initiatives that have come to define her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, and they put her squarely back in the debate over whether President Trump should be removed from office.
In a public appearance Wednesday, then-special counsel Robert S. Mueller III said his office could not consider whether to charge Trump with a crime because of long-standing Justice Department opinions that a sitting president cannot be indicted.
Mueller also repeated a line from his report on Russian election interference explaining that his team would have exonerated Trump from allegations of obstructing the probe if it could have — a statement that emboldened many Democrats to speak out more forcefully about impeachment.
Warren (D-Mass.) pledged that if elected president, she would appoint Justice officials who would reverse the department’s policy, which was formulated in two opinions during the administrations of Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton, when both were facing crises.
The opinions, which have not been tested in the courts, concluded that initiating criminal proceedings against a sitting president would interfere with the unique constitutional responsibilities of the nation’s chief executive.
“No matter what he may think, Donald Trump is not a King,” Warren said. “No President is. And our democracy only works if everyone can be held accountable.”
Warren, who called for launching impeachment proceedings following the release of Mueller’s report, said she would also press Congress to make two changes to the law.
One, she said, would make clear that it’s the intent of Congress that the Justice Department can indict the president. Warren said she would also like to see obstruction of justice statutes amended to make it explicit that the president can be indicted on a charge of abusing the powers of the office.
In her plan, Warren also took shots at Attorney General William P. Barr, whom she accused of having “disgraced himself by acting like Trump’s personal defense attorney.”
“When I’m elected, I will exercise my constitutional authority to appoint an Attorney General who shares my strong conviction that no one — not even a President — is above the law,” Warren said.
Annie Linskey and Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.