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A legal scholar provides necessary context for the challenges facing a special prosecutor as he investigates a sitting president.

Coan (Law/Univ. of Arizona) finds the very concept of a prosecutor who can be fired by the president investigating the president to be “deeply strange,” but he suggests that the people will decide when the prosecutor or the president have gone too far. Not that he finds much comfort in this idea given the polarization of the current political climate: “It is difficult to imagine the supporters of a populist president punishing him for firing a special prosecutor—or otherwise abusing his power for personal or partisan ends. That should scare any American who cares about the rule of law.” Otherwise, the perspective appears to be as nonpartisan as the special prosecutor is supposed to be, though those supporting the Trump investigation have rarely felt the office to be. The Nixon administration pushed a “Watergate as vendetta” campaign against Archibald Cox, just as Trump has proclaimed the investigation by Robert Mueller a “WITCH HUNT.” In some historical cases, the prosecutor’s reputation became more tarnished than his target. “When Kenneth Starr was appointed to investigate Bill and Hillary Clinton’s Whitewater land deal, he was a well-respected lawyer and former judge,” writes Coan. “When he resigned the position five years later, he was a tragic hero to the political right. To most of the broader public, he was a reviled and villainous figure.” Examining a history that dates to the Grant administration and encompasses Teapot Dome, Harry Truman, and Iran-Contra, the author reiterates that the American people are the ultimate arbiters of wrongdoing: how far is too far for the investigation to extend, how long is too long, and how much political consequence a president might face for firing the prosecutor investigating him. Historically, balance and compromise have generally ruled the day, but these aren’t times of balance and compromise.

A useful study that suggests possible outcomes and what is at stake.

Pub Date: Jan. 10th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-19-094386-8
Page count: 220pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2018


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