Opinion » Letters

No free passes from the rule of law


I taught philosophy of law at Cal Poly for 30 years. One of the important themes of the course was the rule of law. The rule refers to a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions, and entities, public and private, including members of Congress, the judiciary, and the president, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced, and independently adjudicated.

In his "A special holiday greeting," on Dec. 27, Gary Wechter used the word "persecution" to characterize the upcoming congressional investigations of President Donald Trump and some of his family. To persecute means to single out a person or group because of race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, social, or political status. Persecution, therefore, is always a violation of the rule of law because it fails the equal enforcement test.

Will the House investigative committees be persecuting the president or will their investigations be justified by the rule of law? For example, there will be an investigation into whether Donald Trump allegedly directed his former attorney Michael Cohen to give hush money to two women with whom he allegedly had sexual affairs, thereby violating campaign finance laws. This investigation will not constitute a persecution of Donald Trump. It does not "single out" Trump while ignoring others who are in violation of the same laws.

Another example: It will not be a persecution of Trump when the House Intelligence Committee looks into allegations that the Russians may possess financial leverage over the president, including perhaps the laundering of Russian money through his businesses. There is a 1924 law that gives heads of the congressional tax-writing committees the right to request any American's tax returns. Should the House Ways and Means Committee give Trump a pass on this and not request his tax returns as part of an investigation into possible money laundering? Of course not. He is no more immune to a money laundering investigation than a Mafia don is.

There are many other examples. My point is that not only is it not persecution to launch these investigations, but to ignore them is to flout the demand of the rule of law that all laws should be equally enforced. The president of the United States and his family do not get a pass.

Laurence Houlgate

San Luis Obispo

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