Last weekend we learned that Trump had pardoned convicted felon Scooter Libby, who was guilty of obstruction of justice and perjury while Chief of Staff for Vice President Dick Cheney. The pardon came out of the blue, as Trump has little love for the Bush Administration and hasn’t recently mentioned Libby publicly.
What’s clear to most observers is that the pardon of Libby was meant as a message to the people in Trump’s own administration under federal investigation or indictment that if they stay loyal to Trump and don’t turn “state’s evidence” they will ultimately be rewarded by a similar pardon. It was a grotesquely corrupt action, unprecedented in modern American politics, and took us one stop closer to a presidency above the law.
To preempt this tactic, Robert Mueller long ago brought Attorneys from several states into his Russia investigation to develop parallel state-level investigations. Trump can only pardon federal offenses, not state offenses. The two legal systems–federal and state–operate in parallel, and are ultimately considered separate and distinct from each other. Some states, like New York, have decided as a matter of principle not to prosecute people for state crimes that have already been prosecuted for the same crimes on a federal level. So if a target of the Mueller probe has committed several crimes, for example bank fraud, the Mueller team could prosecute some of those crimes and a State Attorney could prosecute the remaining crimes. If Trump pardoned the federal part, the state crimes would still be prosecutable, and the target would still be in legal jeopardy. But this is a difficult and complex strategy for prosecutors.
State crimes must be prosecuted in the state where they occurred, so it’s no surprise that many of the alleged crimes of the Trump team occurred in New York, home of money center banks, as well as Trump Tower and other Trump businesses. In the pursuit of justice, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has decided to try to repeal our state directive not to prosecute those already prosecuted for federal crimes. In the case of Trump, it would mean that even if he pardoned his team for federal crimes they could still be prosecuted for any of the same crimes that occurred here in New York, removing much of the coercive power the pardons may have for Trump.
AG Schneiderman just sent a letter to the Governor and the State Legislative leaders outlining his plan and rationale, and our job as activists is to support this important initiative. No president should be above the law, nor should a president be able to thwart and obstruct justice to save his own hide, which Trump may be preparing to do.
You will be hearing more about the AG’s plan in the news, so please take any opportunity to support this initiative and shame any member of the State Legislature who tries to go against it. If the rule of law is ever subverted, especially by an authoritarian nationalist like Trump, we are all screwed. We won’t get any leadership from John Faso, whose spine is being held in a lock-box somewhere by the Mercer family, so we have to be the voice of our district and make sure the State House hears us loud and clear. Eric Schneiderman has done a remarkable job as Attorney General, standing up to the Trump Administration in every conceivable way, and he has earned our support.