On presidential elections, the ethics of Russian interference and the Mueller report.
The recent political debatehas been monopolised by the release of the Mueller Report. We are talking about the report issued by the Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the ex-director of the FBI, who had been tasked to investigate likely Russian interferences in the last US presidential election.
However, the purpose of this article is not to re-assess pre-election and post-election issues, but to raise specific philosophical questions regarding the nature of power.
In particular, I will try to answer the following questions:
Should a sitting president be indicted? Should heads of state be above the law? If yes, why is it the case? From a philosophical perspective, what lessons can be learnt from the Mueller Report? Conclusions will be then drawn.
Who is Robert Mueller?
Robert Mueller started off his career as a top official within the US Justice Department, and then went on to become the Director of the FBI. In the aftermath of the last US presidential election and rumours of possible Russian interferences, the then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions appointed Mueller as Special Counsel to follow up on such problematic issues. Two weeks ago, Mueller released his findings on the investigation into Russian collusions. Such findings, though, were briskly summarised by the new Attorney General William Barr in a 4-page report, whose main takeaway is the report does not exonerate or accuse the sitting US President. Let’s now address the above-mentioned questions, which are clearly related to this issue.
Should Sitting Presidents be Indicted?
The answer to the question is, in my opinion, yes. Whilst, as Montesquieu argues, the three main powers (the legislative, the executive, and the judiciary) should be strictly separated, this does not mean that the judiciary should not bring presidents or heads of state to book just because they’re fulfilling their own political office. For a state to better work, it is advisable that any of three powers should be held accountable in case something illegal or questionable comes to pass. Hence, the necessity for the judiciary to indict any state representative if it has got compelling evidence of misdemeanour. This issue started to be debated because Donald Trump is of the idea that any sitting president should not be charged during their term of office; this is the reason why he picked legal experts who could back up his argument, like the present Attorney General William Barr and Brett Kavanaugh, whose appointment to the Supreme Court last year gave rise to a great deal of controversy.
Should Heads of State be Above the Law? If so, why?
The answer to this question is, in my opinion, a resounding no. Heads of state are not like the Hobbesian Leviathans, who can do whatever they like because they are accountable only to God. In such a political context, there is no room whatsoever for a clear separation between Church and State, since the sovereign is both the head of church and state at the same time. If presidents are found guilty of any crime, then it is for State prosecutors to go by the book. Presidents have no divine agency, and therefore they are subject to scrutiny if it is the case.
“While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
The Mueller Report Seen from a Philosophical Standpoint
In my opinion, the Mueller Report is the most significant piece of investigation in 2019. Apart from its legal importance, philosophical issues are also at stake:
Should the judiciary indict a sitting head of state? Should heads of state be above the law?
Let’s try to answer these questions.
Yes, the judiciary has a moral obligation to accuse any state official whom it believes is at fault. If provided with compelling evidence, anybody should subject to legal scrutiny. We no longer live in a Leviathan-orientatedsociety and everybody is accountable for what they do. Implicitly, this also answers the second question: no, never are heads of the state above the law. The fact that a president believes he is above the law by virtue of him being the president is not enough. The American Constitution has no provision on how the judiciary is supposed to deal with any president found guilty of anything. This is the case because it should be clear enough that the Founding Fathers never believed anybody is above the law. We’re all entitled to the pursuit of happiness, but we have got to do so by going by the book.
Although both Barr and Kavanaugh believe a sitting president should not be indicted, I believe I’ve made a substantial case for the opposite. Our society isn’t based on the whims of a God-like president, but on the checks and balances imposed by the Constitution. Robert Mueller’s report proves (though it shouldn’t be necessary) that nobody wielding any kind of power is above the law. We no longer live amongst the Sun Kings or the Leviathans asking us to give up on our rights because they deem themselves to be fitter to exercise those very rights on our behalf.