Some argue that blocking a sale for purely personal reasons would constitute an abuse of presidential powers. This is a term frequently thrown around lately to describe various Trump controversial actions.
Kennedy, when asked, said that the newspaper claim was a mere anonymous allegation published in the New York Times. He also said that the president had a right to have an opinion.
After Kennedy finished that statement, I thought CNN’s Sciutto’s jaw would hit the floor. Apparently, others were somewhat stunned. Kennedy’s comment made national news. Some reports appeared to claim that Kennedy’s deference to Trump’s right to have his opinion was clear evidence that Kennedy and others would never stand up to President Trump.
During the interview, Kennedy never did squarely answer Sciutto’s question. Instead, his attention focused on the article’s accuracy.
The interview raises a couple of important issues, nonetheless. To further illuminate, let us assume the truth of the allegations—that Trump urged his administration to file a lawsuit to block the CNN-AT&T sale because the president wanted to punish CNN for its reporting.
So, here are the issues I see arising from the Kennedy interview:
ABUSE OF POWER
Issue #1: Would Trump’s purported act of intervention be legally permissible?
Issue #2: Even if there is no express prohibition for his alleged interference in the media giant’s sale, would it still be an abuse of power?
The term “abuse of power” has become a hot potato topic lately. Some legal scholars, politicians and media types believe that many of the president’s actions, even if not legally an obstruction of justice or legally prohibited, falls within the ambit of an “abuse of presidential power”. The topic is no chopped liver. The House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary voted to impeach Richard Nixon for abuse of power, obstruction of justice and contempt of Congress during Watergate impeachment proceedings. The House charge of abuse of power against Bill Clinton failed to pass that body.
It is important to note that Nixon did not violate any specific law or prohibition. Still, based upon the Nixon precedent, if the legislative body determines an act, especially combined with a series of related acts, to be offending the constitution, I believe the charge of abuse of power could prevail.
Separately, there is another important question. This one involves clarity and consistency of interviewee’s remarks. In this case, Kennedy refused to discuss the validity of claims made in the media. He demurred because the allegations were anonymous and published supposedly in an unfriendly venue. In the future, where will Senator Kennedy draw the line? Will he refuse to opine whenever the sources are anonymous? What about if they are anonymous but the article arises from Fox News? Will his argument be the same if the target of the article are allegations against a Democrat? Will he always state he can’t or won’t answer stating he does not know the intent of the person being queried? We shall see but in my view, it is very clear that Kennedy and other Republicans are walking thin lines with all of the allegations being alleged against President Donald Trump that is erupting in the federal and state courts, insurance commissions and in Congress.
Here is the interview segment:
Jim Sciutto: “The New Yorker is reporting this morning that the president ordered the Department of Justice to attempt to block the merger between AT&T and Time Warner over the objections of his chief of staff then John Kelly but also his chief economic advisor Gary Cohn. In your view is that an acceptable use of presidential power, a president trying to block a merger because he doesn’t like the coverage by a news station, this one, owned by one of the companies involved?
“Well, number one, I don’t know if it’s true. I think the report--yet again--was based upon anonymous sources. “Number two, I think it’s perfectly acceptable for the president of the United States to have an opinion.”
“To block a merger — to block a merger, to punish what he considers a critic?”
“I don’t think that it’s been established. I know it’s been alleged that that was what his mental perspective was at the time and I think it’s all anonymous sources. I don’t know what the president thought, and neither do you, frankly. None of us do. It’s an anonymous source once again talking to ‘The New York Times.”
“Well, it’s ‘The New Yorker—I should cite but--If the president were to do that, would you consider that an acceptable use of presidential power?”
“Well, I don’t think that’s a fair question--because they haven’t proven that he did it. If any public official committed murder, would I think that’s wrong? If he committed murder? Yea. He’d be a murderer.
The president, also, the president also, even in campaign statements and publicly said he opposed the merger, so this didn’t come out—
I take your point