Former criminal investigator and criminal defense attorney, Seth Abramson, writes that Trump’s “God Manifesto” is “constitutional heresy.”
The New York Times reported on Saturday that Trump’s legal team tried to block any attempt by Special Counsel Robert Mueller to force Trump to testify.
Trump’s lawyers have for months quietly waged a campaign to keep the special counsel from trying to force him to answer questions in the investigation into whether he obstructed justice, asserting that he cannot be compelled to testify and arguing in a confidential letter that he could not possibly have committed obstruction because he has unfettered authority over all federal investigations.
In a brash assertion of presidential power, the 20-page letter — sent to the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and obtained by The New York Times — contends that the president cannot illegally obstruct any aspect of the investigation into Russia’s election meddling because the Constitution empowers him to, “if he wished, terminate the inquiry, or even exercise his power to pardon.”
Reaction was swift, most notably by former criminal investigator and defense attorney. Seth Abramson. who took to his Twitter account to detail his analysis of the news.
In Trump's "God Manifesto," he asserts his right to cancel—at his pleasure—any federal law enforcement investigation into his own actions, the actions of his family, or the actions of his associates. It is, in short, the bald claim that he and his are beyond the reach of the law.
— Seth Abramson (@SethAbramson) June 2, 2018
Calling that 20-page letter “Trump’s God Manifesto,” Abramson began writing that through his manifesto, Trump “asserts his right to cancel—at his pleasure—any federal law enforcement investigation into his own actions, the actions of his family, or the actions of his associates. It is, in short, the bald claim that he and his are beyond the reach of the law.”
Continuing, Abramson wrote that: “Trump’s ‘God Manifesto’ has no basis in American law. It’s an autocratic assertion of power bolstered only by a harrowing subtext—that any president who believes what Trump says he believes also believes neither Congress nor the judiciary can abridge the powers he’s asserting. So this was the moment in our history when a president tore up the Constitution and declared himself an autocrat: when Trump argued—via his lawyer—on January 29, 2018, that he cannot obstruct justice because he ‘can, if he wishes, terminate the inquiry [into his own actions].'”
Turning his attention to Trump’s attorneys, Abramson wrote that their letter was the equivalent of “constitutional heresy.”
“Attorneys—like me and like Trump’s attorneys—take an oath to uphold the Constitution. We get disbarred if we fail to uphold that oath. In my opinion it falls outside the oath every attorney takes to argue that an American president is above the law. It’s constitutional heresy,” he wrote.
He concluded with his gravest concern regarding the letter – that Trump is claiming he is above the law by nature of his role as Commander-in-Chief, not as president.
“But I’m not sure that’s the worst part of Trump’s God Manifesto—to me, the scariest part is his claim that a valid federal probe of his actions ‘endanger[s] the safety and security of our country,’ which ties his assertion of autocratic power to his role as Commander-in-Chief. What he’s saying is that a president can end a legitimately constituted probe of his actions on national security grounds—i.e., by arguing he is above the law not by virtue of his administrative role in the executive branch but by virtue of one of his most encompassing powers.”
For those unfamiliar with his work, Abramson has been publishing extensive Twitter threads and mega-threads regarding the ongoing investigation into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. And, while he has his critics, Abramson – a former public defender at both the state and federal level – has an impressive resume.
A graduate of Harvard Law School, Seth worked for eight years as a criminal defense attorney and criminal investigator and is now a tenure-track professor of Communication Arts and Sciences at University of New Hampshire. His teaching areas include digital journalism, post-internet cultural theory, post-internet writing, and legal advocacy (legal writing, case method, and trial advocacy).
Trained as a criminal investigator at Georgetown University (1996) and then the Harvard Criminal Justice Institute (2000-2001), Seth is a member in good standing of both the New Hampshire Bar and the Federal Bar for the District of New Hampshire. He’s worked for three public defenders—two state and one federal—representing over 2,000 criminal defendants over that time in cases ranging from juvenile delinquency to first-degree murder. He first testified in federal court as a defense investigator at the age of 19; represented his first homicide client at the age of 22 as a Rule 33 attorney for the Boston Trial Unit of the Committee for Public Counsel Services; and won his first first-degree murder trial at 29. Between 2001 and 2007, he was a staff attorney for the Nashua Trial Unit of the New Hampshire Public Defender.
His official bio goes on to detail his extensive work with the media:
Seth is regularly interviewed about politics and higher education by domestic and International media. Recent interviews include the BBC, CNN, NPR, PBS, ABC Radio, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Chronicle of Higher Education, New York Magazine, and The New England Review of Books. Seth’s essays have also been widely cited, including discussions on CNBC, PBS, FNC, BET, and NPR, as well as in Politico, The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, The New Yorker, The Chicago Tribune, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy, Slate, and Pitchfork.
If you are interested in reading more of his writing, Twitter user @chicken_afraido created a document linking to every Trump-Russia thread published by Abramson going back to autumn of 2016. The document begins with his updated bio from 8 December 2017, but then hops to his latest threads and works in reverse chronological order. He also has a web page linking to Abramson’s threads using category listings for those interested in a breakdown by topic.