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Constitutional Cliffhangers$
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Brian C. Kalt

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780300123517

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: October 2013

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300123517.001.0001

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Prosecuting a President

Prosecuting a President

(p.11) 1 Prosecuting a President
Constitutional Cliffhangers

Brian C. Kalt

Yale University Press

This chapter discusses how cases where a prosecutor brings criminal charges against a sitting president might arise, what the two sides would argue, and how such a controversy might be prevented. For as long as there has been a presidency, Americans have debated whether sitting presidents can be prosecuted. There are good arguments on both sides, and nobody has tried to prosecute a president yet, so reasonable minds have differed and the issue remains unresolved. Nixon and Clinton came closest to being prosecuted in office, and their cases reveal some important practical points. First, prosecutors are reluctant to prosecute presidents, especially if it means getting ahead of the impeachment process. Prosecutors have plenty of incentive to wait. Any person politically formidable enough to become president and avoid impeachment would have a good chance of finding at least one sympathetic juror. A sitting president could also complain that the prosecutor was trying to overturn an election and was bypassing Congress.

Keywords:   criminal charges, sitting president, Nixon, Clinton, impeachment, Congress

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