Prosecuting the President: How Special Prosecutors Hold Presidents Accountable and Protect the Rule of Law

Prosecuting the President: How Special Prosecutors Hold Presidents Accountable and Protect the Rule of Law (2019)

Arizona Legal Studies Discussion Paper No. 19-01

12 Pages Posted: 7 Feb 2019

See all articles by Andrew Coan

Andrew Coan

University of Arizona, James E. Rogers College of Law

Date Written: January 18, 2019

Abstract

This is the Introduction to Prosecuting the President: How Special Prosecutors Hold Presidents Accountable and Protect the Rule of Law (Oxford University Press 2019).

The first special prosecutor was appointed by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1875, to investigate a bribery scandal involving his close friends and associates. Ever since, presidents of both parties have appointed special prosecutors and empowered them to operate with unusual independence. Also called special counsels and independent counsels, such appointments became a standard method for neutralizing political scandals and demonstrating the President's commitment to the rule of law. Special counsel Robert Mueller is the latest example.

In Prosecuting the President, Andrew Coan offers a highly engaging look at the long, mostly forgotten history of special prosecutors in American politics. For more than a century, special prosecutors have struck fear into the hearts of Presidents, who have the power to fire them at any time. How could this be, Coan asks? And how could the nation entrust such a high responsibility to such subordinate officials? With vivid storytelling and historical examples, Coan demonstrates that special prosecutors can do much to protect the rule of law under the right circumstances.

Many have been thwarted by the formidable challenges of investigating a sitting President and his close associates; a few have abused the powers entrusted to them. But at their best, special prosecutors function as catalysts of democracy, channeling an unfocused popular will to safeguard the rule of law. By raising the visibility of high-level misconduct, they enable the American people to hold the President accountable. Yet, if a President thinks he can fire a special prosecutor without incurring serious political damage, he has the power to do so. Ultimately, Coan concludes, only the American people can decide whether the President is above the law.

Keywords: Special prosecutor, Special Counsel, Independent Counsel, Mueller, Impeachment, Nixon, Trump, Obstruction of Justice, Executive Privilege, Executive Power, Polarization, Populism, Teapot Dome, Grant, Truman

Suggested Citation

Coan, Andrew, Prosecuting the President: How Special Prosecutors Hold Presidents Accountable and Protect the Rule of Law (January 18, 2019). Prosecuting the President: How Special Prosecutors Hold Presidents Accountable and Protect the Rule of Law (2019); Arizona Legal Studies Discussion Paper No. 19-01. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3318351

Andrew Coan (Contact Author)

University of Arizona, James E. Rogers College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 210176
Tucson, AZ 85721-0176
United States

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