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Saturday, January 17, 2004

JB

Indicting A Vice President

The Nation is wondering out loud whether a French investigation into bribery of Nigerian officials by Halliburton will lead to an indictment of Vice-President Dick Cheney.

We know from Clinton v. Jones that the President may be sued civily while in office. A different question is whether the Vice-President is immune from criminal indictment (and by a foreign government, no less) during his term in office.

Clinton v. Jones ranks as one of the most naive opinions in the Supreme Court's history. The Court assumed that lawsuits against a sitting President would not detract from the performance of his official duties. You have to ask yourself, what were these people thinking?

There is a fairly good but not conclusive structural argument that the President may not be indicted criminally before being impeached and removed from office, because otherwise a single local prosecutor could bring down the government. Nevertheless, this argument does not seem to apply to Vice-Presidents, whose job is much less important to the continuation of the government. For example, Vice President Spiro Agnew was indicted and pled nolo contendre to a single count of tax evasion in October of 1973 (the unreported income in question was a bribe).



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