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想起诉美国总统?没那么容易

Tom Ginsburg 2018年06月12日

在学者和律师圈子中,大家对起诉现任总统有无法律依据,始终莫衷一是。

最近,特朗普的律师鲁迪·朱利安尼称,负责“通俄门”调查的政府特别检察官罗伯特·米勒告诉他,根据法律,他无权起诉美国总统特朗普。这又引出了一个老调重弹且始终没有定论的宪法问题:在美国,你能以涉嫌犯罪为由起诉在职总统吗?美国尚无总统被提起刑事诉讼的先例,但在学者和律师圈子中,大家对起诉现任总统有无法律依据,始终莫衷一是。

从司法部的政策和它的两份内部备忘录来看(一份可以追溯到“水门事件”时期,另一份可以追溯到克林顿时代),美国的在职总统是没法被起诉的。不过这种观点也受到了一些学者的质疑,比如最近,参议员理查德·布卢门塔尔(民主党议员)就提出,在职总统应当可以被起诉,审判可以推迟到总统卸任后进行。那么,哪种说法是正确的?

不妨从大家有共识的地方说起。所有人都知道,美国总统是可以被弹劾下台的。不过弹劾在当前的政治环境下不太可能,因为它至少需要参议院三分之二票数通过。目前共和党和特朗普是一根绳上的两只蚂蚱,所以共和党几乎是不可能同意弹劾特朗普的。因此,在职总统能不能被起诉,仍然是个现实问题。

大家都认同,宪法赋予总统的职能是很重要的。总统肩负重要职权,如果他全面卷入一场官司,则必然会影响到他履行宪法赋予的职责的能力。1997年,有一位叫保拉·琼斯的女子指控当时的克林顿总统,称他在担任阿肯色州州长时性骚扰过自己。克林顿当时就是以上述理由为借口企图摆平这起官司,或者将审判拖到自己卸任后进行。不过美国最高法院1997年对此案作出裁定:克林顿在此案中不享有豁免或推迟审判的权利,并裁定在职总统也可以被提起民事诉讼。不过,至于总统能否被提起刑事诉讼,该案并未作出判例。法庭认为,一起民事诉讼尚不足以影响总统履行宪法赋予其的职权——不过这种看法其实大错特错。正是由于这场民事诉讼一石掀起千层浪,才有了后来克林顿遭到弹劾的事。

讽刺的是,特朗普现在正在依靠克林顿时代的判例来为自己主张豁免,不过克林顿案的语境和特朗普面临的局面并不相同。法庭强调,总统犯法,“与庶民同罪,在美国历史上,从来没有总统的非职务行为涉嫌犯罪却被豁免的判例。职务行为豁免原则也并不适用于总统的非法个人行为。”自从特朗普上台以来,针对他个人的民事诉讼已经有几十起了。不过如果在他就任总统前确实存在犯罪行为——比如在竞选资金上手脚不干净,或是图谋其他犯罪,那么根据上述原则,他也将跟我们普通人一样,受到同等法律制裁。

问题是,谁才有起诉总统的权力?一般说来,美国的特别检察官是受司法部约束的,因此,像米勒这种特别检察官未经上级(也就是司法部副部长罗德·罗森斯坦)授权,是无法起诉特朗普的。曾经起诉过克林顿的独立检察官肯尼思·斯塔尔拿到的一份司法部备忘录显示,独立检察官是可以起诉在任总统的,而特别检察官却不能,因为特别检察官拿的是司法部的薪水,因而他们实际上还是归总统管的。

另外,还有一类检察官不归司法部管,那就是美国各州的检察官。美国宪法并未规定各州法院不能起诉总统。另外克林顿案也说明,总统的私人行动是不受豁免权保护的。如果有证据表明在任总统违反了各州法律,那么总统仍然应该“与庶民同罪”。

这里,我们可以给办理“通俄门”案的特别检察官支个招:如果他无法在未经司法部同意的情况下起诉总统,那么他可以合法地透露一些相关信息,让有关各州法院去起诉总统。在水门事件中,检察官里昂·贾沃斯基并未直接起诉尼克松,而是将他定为“不予起诉的共犯”。此举直接导致了国会对尼克松的弹劾,尼克松因此引咎辞职,但后来得到了接任总统杰拉德·福特的赦免。“共犯”在法律是个很宽泛的概念,在一个犯罪团伙里,任何一个成员犯了罪,其他成员都可能成为他的共犯。因此如果特朗普被定成了某个远程诈骗者的共犯,他就可能会被起诉到某个州的法院。到时想必还将有更多精彩大戏等着大家。(财富中文网)

本文作者汤姆·金斯伯格是芝加哥大学法学院国际法教授,也是即将出版的《如何拯救宪政民主》一书的作者之一。

译者:朴成奎

Thanks to Rudy Giuliani’s report that special prosecutor Robert Mueller told him he couldn’t legally indict President Trump, we are again confronted with a question of constitutional law for which there is no settled answer: Can a sitting president be indicted for criminal activity? There is no precedent for such an indictment, but there is much debate among scholars and lawyers about whether it would be legal to do so.

Justice Department policy and two internal memos—one dating back to Watergate and the other from the Clinton era—suggest that the answer is no. This view is contested by various scholars, and most recently Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who believes a president could be indicted and the trial postponed until after the president leaves office. Who is right?

Let’s start with the common ground. All agree that impeachment—which, if successful, turns a sitting president into an indictable ex-president—resolves the issue. But impeachment is highly unlikely in current circumstances, given that it requires a 2/3 vote in the Senate to convict. It is unimaginable that Republicans, who have tightly yoked their party to Trump, will be willing to impeach, and so the question of whether a sitting president can be indicted remains live.

Another point of agreement is that functional concerns matter. The president has a day job, and there is some risk that extensive involvement in court proceedings would interfere with his ability to carry out his constitutional functions. This was one of the arguments put forward in 1997 by then-president Bill Clinton in seeking the dismissal or postponement of the lawsuit brought by Paula Jones, in which she claimed he sexually harassed her when Clinton was governor of Arkansas. The Supreme Court’s 1997 decision in Clinton v. Jones rejected the argument for immunity or postponement, and decided that a sitting president could be sued civilly. The Court, however, did not resolve the question of whether he could be subject to criminal prosecution. The case held that the distraction involved in a civil suit was not so great as to impinge on the president’s carrying out his constitutional duty—an argument that turned out to be spectacularly wrong: It was the fallout from the civil suit that led to Clinton’s impeachment.

There is delicious irony in Trump relying on Clinton-era precedents to argue for immunity from process, but some of the language in Jones v. Clinton is not very helpful to Trump. The Court emphasized that the president “is subject to the same laws that apply to all citizens, that no case had been found in which an official was granted immunity from suit for his unofficial acts, and that the rationale for official immunity is inapposite where only personal, private conduct by a President is at issue.” Trump himself has been subjected to dozens of civil lawsuits since taking office. If he engaged in criminal behavior before taking office—involving campaign finance, or conspiracy to commit a crime, for instance—the logic of the opinion is that he would be subject to the same laws as the rest of us.

There is, however, the question of who could indict a president. Normally, the Department of Justice policies bind special prosecutors, and so Mueller would be unable to indict, absent a waiver from his superiors, in this case Rod Rosenstein. The independent counsel who prosecuted Clinton, Kenneth Starr, obtained a memo arguing that the independent prosecutor could indict a sitting president, but that special prosecutors could not because they are under presidential authority at the Department of Justice.

There is another group of prosecutors, however, who are not subject to Department of Justice policy: those in the states. There is nothing in the constitutional text that immunizes the president from state prosecutions. Nor, as the Jones case makes clear, is there immunity for unofficial acts of the president. If armed with evidence of violations of state law, the president would be “subject to the same laws that apply to all citizens.”

Here’s where the special prosecutor comes in. Even if he does not believe he can indict the president without approval from the Department of Justice, there is the possibility that the special prosecutor could legally release information that would lead to a state prosecution of the president. The Watergate prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, decided to name Richard Nixon as an unindicted co-conspirator for the Watergate break-in, rather than prosecuting directly. This led to impeachment proceedings and Nixon’s resignation, followed by a full pardon by Gerald Ford. Since conspiracies involve all of their participants in the crimes of any one of them, a federal prosecution of one of Trump’s associates for, say, wire fraud might lead to evidence that could be used against him in state court. Stay tuned for the next episode.

Tom Ginsburg is Leo Spitz Professor of International Law at the University of Chicago Law School and co-author with Aziz Huq of the forthcoming How to Save a Constitutional Democracy (The University of Chicago Press).

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