On March 19, at the Law Alumni Association (LAA) Spring Conference, the power of the US presidency was the subject of an animated panel discussion that quickly focused on how President Donald Trump is wielding—and perhaps changing—the authority of his office.

Lisa MonacoOn the panel were Distinguished Scholar in Residence Preet Bharara; Richard Epstein, Laurence A. Tisch Professor of Law; and Distinguished Senior Fellow Lisa Monaco, who served as President Barack Obama’s homeland security and counterterrorism adviser. Professor of Practice and Distinguished Scholar in Residence Bob Bauer, who was White House counsel during the Obama Administration, moderated the discussion.

Bharara, former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, provoked some laughter from the audience when he began by saying, “I understand presidential power personally. The president has various powers with which I am now intimately familiar, including the firing of US Attorneys. I am one of those people.”

Select remarks from the discussion:

Preet BhararaBharara: “It seems that the President of the United States, his personality is such that he wants more power. I think his personality is such that he wants to change the institution and the relationship between the two institutions of the presidency, the White House, on the one hand and the Department of Justice on the other hand.”

Monaco: “Were the president to direct [U.S. Deputy Attorney General] Rod Rosenstein—which is how this would have to be effectuated—to fire [Special Counsel] Bob Mueller, and were that to be carried out, that would be a gut punch to the rule of law. It would send a signal to the United States—to the world, quite frankly—that we’re not in fact a country of laws, but rather one ruled by an individual who believes in fiat and that he is in fact above the law.”

Richard EpsteinEpstein: “I thought it was a serious mistake in judgment to take someone [former FBI director Robert Mueller] who was close to the FBI to run an investigation which will necessarily implicate the behavior of people in the FBI, and I think one of the consequences of this decision, whether you think he’s the best guy in the world or not—I have no opinion on that—is that it gives people on the other side a leg to stand on when it comes to the debate.”

Posted April 11, 2018

For video of the entire event, click here: