Once again, President Trump seeks to be hoisted on his own petard. His reaction since Charlottesville has placed him firmly on the side of those who are trying to preserve the confederate monuments and flags rapidly being brought down across the country. In doing so, Trump is supporting “states’ rights,” the euphemistic characterization that glosses over the history of slavery these symbols represent.
But states’ rights take on a different meaning in the realm of criminal law. News that special counsel Robert Mueller has paired up with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman suggests that he might be taking advantage of the special relationship states have with the federal government in the realm of criminal prosecution to end run the president’s pardon power — if he is, then “states’ rights” might just become Trump’s Achilles heel.
Robert Mueller’s investigation is a federal investigation that is proceeding on two tracks: a counterintelligence track and a criminal track. Most of what is discovered in the former may never come to light, given that it is based on classified methods and sources. But what Mueller uncovers in his criminal investigation will become public in the event that he brings criminal charges. President Trump, however, could undercut this possibility by granting pardons to the targets of Mueller’s investigation if they are convicted. He could even pardon Mueller’s targets preemptively, leaving potential prosecutions of federal crimes dead in the water before they even begin.
Unfortunately for Trump, the story may not end there. This is because a legal principle called “dual sovereignty” allows a state (or multiple states) to prosecute people for the same crimes as the federal government, if the conduct constitutes a crime and was committed in that state.
This is true even if the person has already been tried by the federal government.
Under the dual sovereignty principle, the Fifth Amendment’s prohibition on double jeopardy — which prevents the government from trying someone twice for the same crime — doesn’t apply if the second trial is by a different “sovereign” — in this case, the state.
How is this possible? The idea of dual sovereignty rests on the premise that the power of the states to prosecute crimes existed before the creation of the federal government, and is reserved to them by the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution. As a result, everyone is a citizen of both the United States and of a state or territory — and therefore owes allegiance to the laws of each. What’s more, the United States and an individual state may be protecting different interests, even if they are prosecuting the same crime.
A good example would be if someone murdered a U.S. marshal in, say, Virginia. A federal prosecution might be brought under a statute that makes it a crime to threaten or kill public officials. And a state prosecution might be brought for second-degree murder. In the former case, the United States has an interest in protecting the safety of its public officials. In the latter case, the State of Virginia has an interest in deterring crime and protecting its denizens from dangerous offenders.
Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter put this in “states’ rights” terms in a 1959 case called Bartkus v. Illinois, writing “it would be in derogation of our federal system to displace the reserved power of the States over state offenses by reason of prosecution…by federal authorities beyond the control of the states.”
The states’ rights argument for New York to pursue its own prosecutions against members of the Trump team is especially sound. In particular, many of the lines of inquiry that Mueller is pursuing appear to involve possible financial crimes, like money laundering or tax evasion.
Critics of Mueller’s investigation, including Republican members of Congress and the president himself, have argued that looking into these crimes exceeds Mueller’s mandate, which is to get to the bottom of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. By contrast, New York, as the financial epicenter of the country, has a very direct and vested interest in ensuring the integrity of its financial institutions and in ensuring that its citizens have not been defrauded by people doing business in the state who haven’t paid their taxes.
In fact, given that the bulk of criminal laws rests with states, not the federal government, a true states’ rights advocate might argue that the State of New York ought to protect its interests by prosecuting every possible charge it can — which may arguably exceed the number and type of crimes that might be available to Mueller.
The downside for Trump is that his presidential pardon power does not extend to state crimes — for the same reasons that underlie the dual sovereignty principle. Mueller, of course, knows this, and may be setting up the infrastructure to allow Schneiderman to pursue any prosecutions in the event he can’t – or to conduct them simultaneously.
Either way, Trump may soon learn that the “states’ rights” ostensibly represented by the monuments and flags he reveres includes the power to bring his campaign team — and even him — to justice.
[And for those who missed it, below is the background on this, as posted here earlier this week]
More than a few commentators have variously suggested that Donald Trump’s legal team may not be up to the task when it comes to squaring off against “Bobby Three Sticks” and co.
Consider these brief excerpts from a Bloomberg piece out earlier this month, for example:
As Mueller adds experienced prosecutors and broadens his investigation, Trump’s legal team still appears disorganized and understaffed. An army of well-paid lawyers would help the president get in front of the investigation: preparing responses to allegations before hearing about them from prosecutors or reporters, anticipating where Mueller is going, and developing a counternarrative to stymie him. Junior staffers could spend all night researching case law or obstruction of justice and conspiracy statutes; they could be available at a moment’s notice to draft pleadings challenging Mueller’s requests to interview witnesses or gather documents.
Instead, Trump’s defense has been almost entirely reactive—responding to the latest bombshell report with uninformed statements by surrogates.
Yes, “uninformed statements by surrogates.” And as Trump himself will tell you, his surrogates are perpetually (and woefully) behind the curve:
As a very active President with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2017
Well, just one day after we learned that the Senate Judiciary Committee is set to hear closed-door testimony from Donald Trump Jr. and that Mueller has issued subpoenas to a former lawyer for Paul Manafort and to Manafort’s current spokesman, we get the latest on the Special Counsel investigation and it looks like “Bobby” is about to try and circumvent Trump’s pardon power.
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is working with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on its investigation into Paul Manafort and his financial transactions, according to several people familiar with the matter.
The cooperation is the latest indication that the federal probe into President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman is intensifying. It also could potentially provide Mueller with additional leverage to get Manafort to cooperate in the larger investigation into Trump’s campaign, as Trump does not have pardon power over state crimes.
The two teams have shared evidence and talked frequently in recent weeks about a potential case, these people said. One of the people familiar with progress on the case said both Mueller’s and Schneiderman’s teams have collected evidence on financial crimes, including potential money laundering.
Note that bolded bit.
It seems entirely plausible that Trump was trying to send a message to his former and current associates with the Arpaio pardon. Namely, that everyone’s got a “get out of jail free” card if push comes to shove.
Obviously, if you know you’re likely to be pardoned, you’re less likely cooperate in an investigation.
To the extent the above is accurate and, perhaps more poignantly, to the extent Mueller uses it as a tactic to pressure other people he thinks might have been involved, he could effectively remove the incentive everyone had for keeping their mouth shut and replace it with the threat of being charged with a state crime.
Original tweet was deleted but the question was whether I think Mueller is trying to get around the presidential pardon power. Answer 👇🏽 https://t.co/qubfI4vePI
— Asha Rangappa (@AshaRangappa_) August 31, 2017
MINI THREAD: I'd think so. There's a legal principle called "dual sovereignty." https://t.co/URvQhbqM5u
— Asha Rangappa (@AshaRangappa_) August 31, 2017
Trump’s legal team might want to start burning the candle at both ends…