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Is Trump Above the Law? James Risen on Prosecuting the President & Why Press Needs to Fight Back

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In the wake of President Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen’s plea deal and former campaign manager Paul Manafort’s guilty verdict, many are advocating for Trump’s impeachment. We speak with The Intercept’s James Risen, who says lawmakers should indict Trump and prosecute him in a federal court.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Jim, you just wrote a piece this week called “Is Donald Trump Above the Law?” Explain. And talk about your call for a Trump Project.

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, I wrote in this latest piece that, you know, there’s this long-standing tradition, based partly on legal opinions issued by the Justice Department over the last few decades, in which it’s believed that the Justice Department cannot indict and prosecute a sitting president and that the only available option is impeachment in Congress. But it’s clear now that the Republicans in Congress are not going to ever go along with an impeachment, no matter what Robert Mueller and the special counsel find. Even if the Democrats retake the House, and even if they retook the Senate, it’s highly unlikely they would have the votes in the Senate for a conviction on an impeachment. And so, the only real avenue, I believe, to deal with the criminality of Donald Trump is to indict him and prosecute him in a federal court. And I think that the prosecutors, both in New York, who have dealt with the Cohen matter, and Mueller’s special counsel office, should both consider indicting him for what are very obviously criminal activity, criminal matters. And the—

AMY GOODMAN: And you think the most obvious part of the criminal matters are what? What do you think is criminal?

JAMES RISEN: Well, I think this week what we got was Donald Trump’s former lawyer, personal lawyer, revealing, admitting in court, that the felony he just pled guilty to was a conspiracy that he—that was coordinated and directed by Donald Trump. He said that in court. That makes it—I mean, how does a federal prosecutor—when you have just prosecuted the man’s personal lawyer, and that personal lawyer has admitted that Trump directed him to do the thing that you just prosecuted him for, how do you then ignore that as a prosecutor? Do you just—

AMY GOODMAN: Well, it could well be whether a sitting president can be indicted would go to the Supreme Court. And it’s a very serious question about what it would mean—

JAMES RISEN: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: —if Brett Kavanaugh were sitting on that Supreme Court.

JAMES RISEN: Yes, obviously, yeah. I mean, I think that’s—the Senate, I don’t think, should go forward with his nomination until all these things are clarified.

AMY GOODMAN: And how likely do you think that is, that they wouldn’t move forward?

JAMES RISEN: Well, that’s a good question. I think the Democrats may have the votes to slow things down on his nomination. I don’t think they’ll ever be able to stop it, unless they retake the Senate. But, I mean, there’s a lot of procedural motions, I would think, that they would be able to use to slow it down.

AMY GOODMAN: The Trump Project, Jim?

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, I wrote another piece about a week ago about the—you know, when the American editorial pages were all writing about the need for press freedom in America, I said that we should really go further than just having a series of editorials. We need to have investigative reporters come together in a joint project to investigate Trump, much the way that investigative reporters came together back in the 1970s in Arizona after investigative reporter Don Bolles was murdered in a car bombing by the Mob. About 38 investigative reporters came from all over the country to jointly investigate what Bolles had been investigating, and then wrote a series of stories about it. I think that’s what we need with Donald Trump, is to have investigative reporters from every major news organization getting together and writing jointly a comprehensive investigation of Trump, that could be published jointly throughout the country, as a sign of how strong press freedom and investigative reporting still is, despite Trump.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to end it there, but I do want to go back to our first guest, Billie Winner-Davis, and ask that question that people are now asking online after President Trump’s tweet: Would you be requesting, would Reality Winner want to request, a pardon of President Trump? I’m sorry. I can’t hear you, Billie.

BILLIE WINNER-DAVIS: Absolutely, yes. Can you hear me?

AMY GOODMAN: Yes.

BILLIE WINNER-DAVIS: OK. Yes, we would want to do whatever we can to undo this. Her sentence is not fair. The way that she’s been treated is not fair. And if President Trump would pardon her, I would be very grateful, and so would she.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you so much for joining us, from, well, where Billie lives, Augusta, Georgia—sorry, where Reality lived before she was arrested. Billie Winner-Davis, speaking to us from Augusta, Georgia. Kevin Gosztola, we’re going to link to your pieces, talking to us from Atlanta. And James Risen of The Intercept, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, we’ll link to all your pieces related to this case. This is Democracy Now! Again, Reality Winner sentenced to 63 months in prison.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, a Bangladeshi woman about to be deported is stopped—the deportation is stopped because of public outcry. Stay with us.

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