Questions are mounting over what role, if any, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel opinion preventing the indictment of a sitting president may have played in Manhattan federal prosecutors’ decision to back off from filing additional charges in the Stormy Daniels hush money case.
According to a Friday letter from Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) to Southern District of New York deputy U.S. attorney Audrey Strauss, the House Oversight Committee is investigating that question.
“The Committee is seeking to determine whether the internal Department of Justice policy against indicting a sitting President…played any role in your office’s decision not to indict President Trump for these hush money crimes,” the letter reads.
“If prosecutors identified evidence of criminal conduct by Donald Trump while serving as President — and did not bring charges as they would have for any other individual — this would be the second time the President has not been held accountable for his actions due to his position,” Cummings went on to write, referring to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s decision not to charge President Trump with obstruction, adding that the “Office of the President should not be used as a shield for criminal conduct.”
In the letter, Cummings asked for information regarding whether Attorney General Bill Barr “influenced the decisions in this case in any way,” as well as for underlying evidence from the case itself.
Cummings also requested “copies of all immunity deals granted, or informal immunity agreement letters or non-prosecution agreements entered into, in this investigation,” as well as responses to a series of questions about the probe.
Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg received limited immunity to testify before a grand jury in the Cohen case.
Search warrant applications newly unredacted on Thursday in the case suggested that prosecutors steered away from delving deep into the Trump Org itself.
Cummings’ letter also follows a report from USA Today that claimed that the OLC policy against indicting a sitting president played a role in the Cohen case. The newspaper reported that Manhattan federal prosecutors chose to close the hush money case “at least in part” because of the DOJ policy, citing one anonymous source familiar with the case.
Prosecutors in the Cohen case told a federal judge on Monday that they had closed the campaign finance investigation, signaling that no further participants in the scheme to buy Stormy Daniels’s silence would be charged.
The OLC policy prevents a sitting president from being indicted. It is not clear if that policy would extend to cover the closely held business entities of a president, or people whose conduct implicated the president directly.
Read the letter below: