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Jack Goldsmith

  • An illustrated battle scene where cursor arrows are being launched

    Faculty Books in Brief: Summer 2022

    July 2, 2022

    From the Hughes Court to stock market short-termism to the U.S.'s "defend forward" cyber strategy

  • Nixon giving

    Watergate-era reforms 50 years later

    June 9, 2022

    Harvard Law Professor Jack Goldsmith says laws and norms established after President Nixon's resignation 'had a great run,' but the Trump presidency proved that new reforms are needed.

  • A man in a blue blazer stands in front of a building on the Harvard Law School campus.

    Engaging in good faith discussion

    April 27, 2022

    Federalist Society President Jacob Richards ’22, who describes himself as a classical liberal, appreciates engaging in good faith discussion of hard issues at HLS.

  • Goldsmith: Trump has a genius for exploiting loopholes

    February 18, 2022

    Jack Goldsmith, who served in Office of Legal Counsel under George W. Bush, says laws regulating presidents must be reformed before Trump can be reelected.

  • Man sitting at desk cluttered with papers

    In Memoriam: Philip B. Heymann 1932 – 2021

    December 3, 2021

    When asked what he wanted to be remembered by, longtime Harvard Law Professor and former Watergate prosecutor Philip B. Heymann ’60 replied: “Speaking truth to power.” Heymann, a beloved colleague and distinguished public servant, died Nov. 30 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 89.

  • Trump strategist Steve Bannon indicted on contempt charges in Jan. 6 investigation

    November 12, 2021

    Steve Bannon, former President Donald Trump’s political strategist, was indicted by a grand jury Friday on two charges of criminal contempt for defying a House subpoena. ...Biden told reporters Oct. 15 he hoped the committee “goes after” people who defy subpoenas “and holds them accountable criminally.” Asked whether they should be prosecuted, Biden replied: “I do, yes.” Biden told a CNN town hall Oct. 21 that what he said wasn’t appropriate. He said the department would make its own decision about whether to prosecute. “I did not, have not, and will not pick up the phone and call the attorney general and tell him what he should or should not do in terms of who he should prosecute,” Biden said. Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard law professor, tweeted that any prosecution of Bannon, which he considered legally justified, “will be tainted by Biden’s remark.”

  • Garland vs. Bannon Is Bidenism vs. Trumpism

    October 27, 2021

    Few people have made their names in Washington more differently than Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Republican political operative Steve Bannon. ... In the days and weeks ahead, Garland must decide whether to criminally prosecute Bannon, a step that could result in one of Trump’s top allies being sent to jail. Last Thursday, the House held Bannon in contempt for refusing to testify before its select committee investigating the January 6th insurrection. ... Until now, the Justice Department has generally declined to prosecute former Administration officials who defied Congressional subpoenas... Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard law professor who served as a senior Justice Department official during the George W. Bush Administration, predicted that Garland will be criticized for whatever action he takes, saying, “Both prosecuting contempt and not doing so have downsides and will invite criticism.”

  • Inspector General Reform on the Table

    October 6, 2021

    An article by Bob Bauer and Jack Goldsmith: At the top of the list of those responsible for executive branch accountability in the 21st century are the statutory inspectors general that now populate every major executive branch agency. On Wednesday, Oct. 6, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs will consider three bills—the Securing Inspector General Independence Act of 2021, the IG Testimonial Subpoena Authority Act and the IG Independence and Empowerment Act—that would expand the independence and power of inspectors general in important respects. This post reviews the central reforms, urges the passage of one of them, and assesses the others.

  • Congress Should Seize This Chance to Get Its Power Back

    October 5, 2021

    An op-ed by Bob Bauer and Jack Goldsmith: House Democrats late last month introduced the Protecting Our Democracy Act — a bill to curb presidential power that has been widely characterized as a “point-by-point rebuke of the ways that President Donald J. Trump flouted norms,” as the New York Times put it. Trump did indeed aggressively flout norms, but this is a misleading lens through which to view many of the important reforms to the presidency in the bill. The truth is that the bill’s central tenets address problems that arose during recent presidencies of both parties, and that Congress as an institution should want to check. Consider the bill’s proposals to qualify the presidential pardon power by making it a crime to offer a pardon in exchange for a bribe. Trump issued a number of politically and personally self-serving pardons that many commentators thought might rise to the level of bribery. But former President Bill Clinton faced these criticisms at the end of his term after he pardoned Marc Rich, whose wife had previously donated $450,000 to the Clinton Foundation. In fact, the Southern District of New York instituted a federal criminal investigation. The PODA provision would have a powerful and salutary effect in prohibiting pardons as part of a bribery scheme involving presidents.

  • L.O. Natt Gantt

    Gantt named executive director of Program on Biblical Law and Christian Legal Studies at HLS

    September 13, 2021

    L.O. Natt Gantt, II ’94 has been appointed the inaugural executive director of the Harvard Law School Program on Biblical Law and Christian Legal Studies and a lecturer on law at HLS.

  • Afghanistan Collapse and Strikes in Somalia Raise Snags for Drone Warfare Rules

    August 30, 2021

    The Biden administration has nearly completed a policy to govern counterterrorism drone strikes and commando raids outside conventional war zones, but the abrupt collapse of the Afghan government and a recent flurry of strikes in Somalia have raised new problems, according to current and former officials. ... But creating any bureaucratic system and planning for drone strikes cut against Mr. Biden’s repeated statements that he wants to end the forever war, said Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard Law School professor who frequently writes about national security legal policy. “I don’t blame them because I think real threats persist,” he added. “It’s better to have a system for dealing with them than just letting the Pentagon do whatever it wants. But creating a system for drone strikes doesn’t sound like the path to winding down the forever war.”

  • The front page of the New York Times on a printing press

    The Pentagon Papers case today

    June 21, 2021

    Does the First Amendment still protect the press when it lawfully receives classified information unlawfully obtained?

  • woman and man standing hugging

    ‘We’re both so thankful’ for Harvard Law School

    May 25, 2021

    Navy veteran Sean Quirk found a home for his interest in U.S.-China relations as a student at HLS — while one of its clinics supported his wife Sue's immigration process.

  • man in gray suit in front of field of wheat

    Faith and fellowship

    May 18, 2021

    Growing up with a father in the Air Force, Mark Gillespie ’21 moved around a lot as a child. But far from this being a negative, Gillespie says it gave him the sense that life’s possibilities were endless.

  • United States Supreme Court in Washington DC

    President Biden appoints 16 Harvard Law School faculty and alumni to panel studying Supreme Court reform

    April 14, 2021

    President Biden appointed 16 members of the Harvard Law School community — seven faculty and nine alumni — to a new presidential commission on the Supreme Court of the United States.

  • Here’s Merrick Garland’s Orientation Memo for the Trump-Era Hangover on Press Freedom

    March 10, 2021

    When President Biden announced the nomination of Merrick Garland as the next attorney general, Biden criticized incendiary rhetoric against the press as contributing to the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol. A new president—and new leadership at the Department of Justice—will mean turning a corner on a strenuous four years, in which the Justice Department was repeatedly drawn into then-President Trump’s attacks on journalists and First Amendment rights...Though the concern over politicized regulatory actions will wane with Trump’s departure, we urge the Biden administration to support concrete steps to prevent antitrust or other common regulatory tools (for instance, the securities laws, tax audits by the IRS, or oversight of the telecommunications industry) from being misused in this way. In their recent book “After Trump,” which was published by the Lawfare Institute, former White House counsel Bob Bauer and Harvard law professor Jack Goldsmith propose amending the Inspector General Act to empower inspectors general to investigate official acts that constitute a “reprisal against or an attempt to harass or intimidate” news media organizations or journalists. Given the Justice Department’s resistance to permitting discovery into facts that might support selective enforcement defenses, the Bauer-Goldsmith proposal would be a welcome check against executive branch overreaching in any administration.

  • Due Process

    February 17, 2021

    As recently as 10 years ago, Jeannie Suk Gersen was still telling people that the area of law she specialized in—sexual assault and domestic violence—didn’t hold much interest for the general public. A quiet corner of the profession, she thought. Remembering that now, she laughs. “But, you know,” she adds, “every area of law does end up moving into focus. Because, in the end, law is really about every aspect of our lives.” Which is partly why Gersen, J.D. ’02, has always taken it so seriously. “Words don’t just describe things,” she explains. In the law, “words actually do things.” ... “Jeannie is intellectually fearless,” says Bemis professor of international law Jonathan Zittrain. That’s a common sentiment among her colleagues... “There are a lot of people who are afraid to say things in our business,” says Learned Hand professor of law Jack Goldsmith, “and she’s not afraid to say what she thinks.” ... “Her whole response to Title IX has been very, very striking—and I think completely correct,” says Beneficial professor of law Charles Fried, who was Gersen’s teacher before he was her colleague ... Says her former teacher, Loeb University Professor emeritus Laurence Tribe, “I was always impressed by how both meticulous and yet unconventional her insights were. She would often come at issues in a kind of perpendicular way. Rather than finding a point between A and B, she would say that maybe that axis is the wrong axis.” ... “She has one of those amazing brains,” says Williams professor of law I. Glenn Cohen, who worked on the Harvard Law Review with Gersen. “She was a year ahead of me in law school, and we all regarded her more like a faculty member, even back then. She just seemed to know everything.”

  • Black and white photo of the White House

    How Donald Trump illustrated the need for more curbs on presidential power

    February 12, 2021

    As the trial of Donald Trump takes place in the Senate on charges of inciting the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, renowned journalist Bob Woodward wondered during a Harvard Law School-sponsored webinar on Wednesday whether Trump also could have been impeached for his role in the COVID-19 crisis.

  • How to Think About Chinese-Owned Technology Platforms Operating in the United States

    February 12, 2021

    An op-ed by Gary Corn and Jack GoldsmithToday the technology and law programs that we supervise at the American University Washington College of Law and the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, are publishing a report entitled “Chinese Technology Platforms Operating in the United States.” The report sets forth a framework for understanding the various threats posed by Chinese-owned technology platforms operating in the United States (e.g. TikTok), and for assessing the various costs and benefits of proposed responses to these threats. The report is a joint-product by a group of people with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives on these matters: Jennifer Daskal, Chris Inglis, Paul Rosenzweig, Samm Sacks, Bruce Schneier, Alex Stamos, Vince Stewart and the two of us. Some background and elaboration: Among the many challenges the Biden administration has inherited, a frayed U.S.-China relationship figures prominently. The Trump administration's approach to China was driven by China’s emergence as a great power competitor, and frictions inherent in that recognition manifested across a range of issues not the least of which were trade and regulation of Chinese technologies. The Trump administration took direct aim at a number of technologies, from Huawei’s 5G to Chinese manufactured small drones. In late 2020 and early 2021, it took steps to effectively ban TikTok, WeChat and other Chinese-owned apps from operating in the United States, at least in their current form.

  • Michael Horowitz testifying on Capitol Hill

    ‘Our job is to bring accountability, and oversight, and transparency to government’

    February 10, 2021

    Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz ’87 recently spoke to Harvard Law Today about his work to ensure the integrity of the DOJ and beyond.

  • Watchdogs Appointed by Trump Pose Dilemma for Biden

    February 2, 2021

    Even as the Biden administration has moved aggressively to undo Donald J. Trump’s policies and dislodge his loyalists from positions on boards and civil-service jobs, it has hesitated on a related choice: whether to remove two inspectors general appointed by Mr. Trump under a storm of partisan controversy. At issue is whether the new administration will keep Eric Soskin, who was confirmed as the Transportation Department’s inspector general in December, and Brian D. Miller, a former Trump White House lawyer who was named earlier in 2020 to hunt for abuses in pandemic spending. Both were confirmed over intense Democratic opposition after Mr. Trump fired or demoted a number of inspectors general last year,saying he had been treated “very unfairly” by them...Still, Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard Law School professor who co-wrote a book proposing post-Trump reforms to government, said that no matter how well Mr. Biden might couch a justification to remove such an inspector general, it would further damage the notion that presidents ought not remove them without cause. “If Biden refrains from firing Senate-confirmed but disfavored inspectors general, that will buck up the norm of independence,” Mr. Goldsmith said. “The ostensible norm is not an actual norm if it doesn’t constrain the president in painful ways.”

  • Why Is Big Tech Policing Free Speech? Because the Government Isn’t

    January 26, 2021

    In the months leading up to the November election, the social media platform Parler attracted millions of new users by promising something competitors, increasingly, did not: unfettered free speech...The giants of social media — Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram — had more stringent rules. And while they still amplified huge amounts of far-right content, they had started using warning labels and deletions to clamp down on misinformation about Covid-19 and false claims of electoral fraud, including in posts by President Trump...Why, for example, hasn’t Facebook suspended the accounts of other leaders who have used the platform to spread lies and bolster their power, like the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte? A spokesman said suspending Trump was “a response to a specific situation based on risk” — but so is every decision, and the risks can be just as high overseas. “It’s really media and public pressure that is the difference between Trump coming down and Duterte staying up,” says Evelyn Douek, a lecturer at Harvard Law School. “But the winds of public opinion are a terrible basis for free-speech decisions! Maybe it seems like it’s working right now. But in the longer run, how do you think unpopular dissidents and minorities will fare?” ... “I’m afraid that the technology has upended the possibility of a well-functioning, responsible speech environment,” the Harvard law professor Jack Goldsmith says. “It used to be we had masses of speech in a reasonable range, and some extreme speech we could tolerate. Now we have a lot more extreme speech coming from lots of outlets and mouthpieces, and it’s more injurious and harder to regulate.”

  • The Presidency Won’t Go Back to How It Was

    January 20, 2021

    An op-ed by Jack Goldsmith and Samuel Moyn: After years of Donald Trump’s boorish defiance of presidential norms, his incitement of the violence at the Capitol closed his term with a demented rave that shamed American democracy. Tomorrow Joe Biden will return the presidency to a more decorous and honorable choreography. But in important respects, Biden cannot restore normalcy. Trump’s most profound and least recognized contributions to the office he abused are a reorientation of some of the presidency’s important powers and responsibilities. Once-fringe understandings about the role of the president approached acceptance under Trump in ways that Biden cannot dismiss, and they could transform how the great office functions for years to come. True, Biden’s time in office will witness reversals by conservatives and progressives on some of the uses and limits of presidential power. The Harvard law professor Adrian Vermeule predicted at the dawn of the Trump administration that the sides would reverse their positions about aggressive uses of presidential administration. He compared the pattern to two lines of dancers in a Jane Austen novel who move to opposite sides of the ballroom and then continue dancing as before. “The structure of the dance at the group level is preserved; none of the rules of the dance change; but the participants end up facing in opposite directions.”

  • Trump’s final pardons warped presidential powers for his own benefit

    January 20, 2021

    President Trump’s last-minute pardons betray what the Constitution’s pardon power is all about. While he has not decided to try to pardon himself (at least, not as far as we know), the pardons he issued during his term taken together serve as a microcosm for his presidency. They take a noble part of our Constitution and warp it in the service of Trump’s ego and future personal interests...These final pardons do not arrive shorn of history here. Trump’s prior pardons, like Tuesday’s, largely fall into two buckets. Bucket 1 is friends of Donald Trump — people like Roger Stone, George Papadopoulous, Paul Manafort, Charles Kushner (yes, Jared’s dad) and Michael Flynn. These folks never even bothered formally requesting a pardon; they got one through back channels to the Oval Office. Bucket 2 are rogues who aspire to be in Bucket 1 — people like Dinesh D’Souza and former Maricopa County, Ariz., sheriff Joe Arpaio. The conservative Harvard Law School professor Jack Goldsmith examined all of Trump’s pardons before his final days in office and found a whopping 91 percent of them went to people with personal or political connections to Trump. An outsize number of Trump’s pardons were for white-collar criminals, revealing again Trump’s proclivity to benefit those who look and act like him. For decades, criminal justice had been moving in the direction of greater parity between white-collar and other offenders, only to have Trump come along and reverse the trend.

  • The U.S. Presidency: Looking Forward

    January 15, 2021

    The latest episode of Reasonably Speaking brings together a panel of top scholars in U.S. presidency and political science to discuss the future of the U.S. presidency Post–Trump. In “The U.S. Presidency: Looking Forward,” ALI President David F. Leviis joined by David M. Kennedy and Terry M. Moe of Stanford University, and Jack Landman Goldsmith and Daphna Renan of Harvard Law School for a timely conversation on the most important office in our government.

  • Does Trump Face Legal Jeopardy for His Incendiary Speech Before the Riot?

    January 12, 2021

    Scrutiny increased on Monday on how President Trump sought to foment anger at a rally of his supporters and then dispatched them to the Capitol shortly before they rioted last week, as House Democrats on Monday unveiled an article of impeachment accusing him of inciting an insurrection. Here is an overview of some of the broader forms of legal jeopardy the president may be facing...Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard Law professor, flagged another potential hurdle for prosecutors: The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel — including Mr. Barr, when he ran it in 1989 — has written several legal policy memos holding that laws sometimes do not apply to a president engaged in official acts unless Congress has made a “clear statement” that it intended that. That legal policy raises difficult questions for Justice Department prosecutors — and, potentially, the courts — including whether Mr. Trump’s speech to supporters about a political issue counts as an official act. “The whole thing is, in truth, clouded with uncertainty,” Mr. Goldsmith said.

  • Can Trump Pardon Himself?

    January 11, 2021

    With pressure mounting from all sides, President Trump is reportedly telling aides — once again — that he wants to pardon himself...Harvard Law professor Jack Goldsmith has examined all of Trump's pardons and sentence commutations. "We determined that at least 85 of the 94 have some personal or political connection to Trump and were self-serving in that way," he says. Goldsmith, who served as head of the Office of Legal Counsel in the George W. Bush Justice Department, notes that pardon controversies are hardly unique. What's new is the "massive extent" to which Trump has circumvented the Justice Department office charged with processing pardon applications. "Trump loves to exercise the hard powers of the office of the presidency and he especially loves to do so if he thinks there's something in it for him personally and ... if he thinks it will make the political elites' heads explode," he says...Goldsmith notes that the incoming Biden administration is already facing a lot of pressure to investigate and potentially prosecute Trump for some of his actions, and that while President-elect Joe Biden has not previously indicated any great enthusiasm for that idea, Goldsmith says that "if Trump pardons himself, it's going to make it more likely that they will go forward." The Justice Department, he says, "is not going to want to acquiesce in what they think is an unconstitutional assertion of the pardon power."

  • Why Presidential Pardons Are Normal, Trump’s Less So

    January 8, 2021

    The U.S. president has vast constitutional power to grant clemency in the form of pardons and commutations. The process is often tinged with politics. George H.W. Bush pardoned six men involved in the Iran-Contra scandal, while Bill Clinton pardoned Marc Rich, a Democratic Party donor who had fled to Switzerland after being accused of tax crimes. But clemency under Donald Trump has been unusual in multiple respects, including how recipients are evaluated and how announcements are timed. There’s even renewed speculation that Trump, before leaving office on Jan. 20, might try to preemptively pardon himself as a shield against any future prosecution for alleged federal crimes...Of Trump’s first 94 pardons and commutations, only seven appeared to have come on recommendation of the pardon attorney, and at least 84 were granted to people with “a personal or political connection to the president,” according to a review led by Harvard Law School Professor Jack Goldsmith. Trump’s first pardon, for instance, was given to Joe Arpaio, the former Maricopa County, Arizona, sheriff who had been found guilty a year prior of criminal contempt of court. Arpaio hadn’t applied for the pardon.

  • How can we prevent Trump-like presidents in the future?

    January 7, 2021

    As the Trump era comes to a close, many Americans will breathe a sigh of relief as the chaos, divisiveness and cloud of corruption that have characterized this presidency recede. In spite of Trump’s unprecedented attempts to undo democracy, by and large our institutions held. The courts did not overturn the election, the press has not been nationalized or silenced, and civil servants stood up to the president on issues from the infamous Ukraine telephone call to the approval timeline for Covid-19 vaccines...But a healthy democracy needs constant tending. It’s time to look at our entire democratic system and see where changes should be made. As I have argued before, reforming the primary system to re-insert some element of peer review into our nomination system would go a long way towards preventing people like Trump from getting a shot at the presidency in the first place...Another area of concern is the legal constraints or lack thereof on the presidency. Here one should turn to Bob Bauer and Jack Goldsmith’s invaluable book, After Trump: Reconstructing the Presidency. The book is a comprehensive agenda for those who would like some means of preventing or coping with Trump-like presidents in the future. Bauer is one of Washington’s most famous election lawyers. He represented the Democratic National Committee and the Biden campaign, and served as White House Counsel in the Obama Administration. Goldsmith is a professor at Harvard Law School who played key roles in the second Bush Administration and is considered one of the best conservative legal minds in the country. Together they provide a very sensible roadmap for reform.

  • Can Trump Be Stopped?

    January 7, 2021

    An op-ed by David Priess and Jack GoldsmithThe hours since Wednesday afternoon have seen a tidal wave of calls for Donald Trump to lose the powers and duties of the office for his role in the historic storming of the U.S. Capitol. There is a new push for impeachment. And news reports suggest that members of Trump’s Cabinet are considering invoking the 25th Amendment to take from Trump, in the words of the Amendment, “the powers and duties of the office” he holds. (We should note that this reporting is thinly sourced; Maggie Haberman of the New York Times reported last night that a source merely says “the 25th Amendment discussions are staff-based within the administration and with some Republicans on the Hill, and that they're not particularly focused.”) This comes on the heels of a very strange series of events from inside the executive branch, including a statement on Wednesday afternoon by the Secretary of Defense that after consulting with Vice President Pence and top congressional leaders—but seemingly not President Trump—he was “activating D.C. National Guard to assist federal and local law enforcement as they work to peacefully address the situation.” Shortly before 4 a.m. this morning, a reconvened Congress finally confirmedPresident-elect Biden’s presidential victory. And then President Trump issued this statement: “Even though I totally disagree with the outcome of the election, and the facts bear me out, nevertheless there will be an orderly transition on January 20th.” But it is far from clear that Trump will stick by, or do what it takes to carry out, this pledge.

  • Time Is Running Out to Get a Pardon From Trump

    January 5, 2021

    The week before Christmas, President Donald Trump issued a series of pardons and commutations, many of them for his personal associates and political loyalists: his son-in-law’s father, Charles Kushner; former operatives Roger Stone and Paul Manafort; and two former GOP congressmen. Hardly any of the 49 people who received clemency were vetted by the U.S. Department of Justice’s pardon office. Trump has largely wrested the clemency process from the Justice Department, turning it into a lobbying bonanza that has outraged Democrats...Trump has granted a total of 94 pardons and commutations, far fewer than Barack Obama or George W. Bush issued, and only seven of those cases appear to have been recommended by the pardon attorney, according to data compiled by Harvard Law School Professor Jack Goldsmith. More than 14,000 clemency seekers are waiting for verdicts on their applications to the Justice Department. But that backlog is hardly a new phenomenon. In 2014, the Obama administration unveiled a clemency initiative that created new criteria for commutations, with as many as 10,000 inmates expected to qualify.

  • Trump Gives Clemency to More Allies, Including Manafort, Stone and Charles Kushner

    January 4, 2021

    President Trump doled out clemency to a new group of loyalists on Wednesday, wiping away convictions and sentences as he aggressively employed his power to override courts, juries and prosecutors to apply his own standard of justice for his allies. One recipient of a pardon was a family member, Charles Kushner, the father of his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Two others who were pardoned declined to cooperate with prosecutors in connection with the special counsel’s Russia investigation: Paul Manafort, his 2016 campaign chairman, and Roger J. Stone Jr., his longtime informal adviser and friend...Of the 65 pardons and commutations that Mr. Trump had granted before Wednesday, 60 have gone to petitioners who had a personal tie to Mr. Trump or who helped his political aims, according to a tabulation by the Harvard Law School professor Jack Goldsmith. Although similar figures do not exist for previous presidents, legal experts say that those presidents granted a far lower percentage to those who could help them personally and politically.

  • Lawfare Live: All the President’s Pardons

    January 4, 2021

    Wednesday, Dec. 30, at 12pm EST, Jack Goldsmith, co-founder of Lawfare and Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, and Benjamin Wittes, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Lawfare, will join David Priess, Lawfare’s chief operating officer, to answer questions about the president’s recent slew of pardons and commutations.

  • How to Reform the Presidency After the Wreckage of Trump

    December 18, 2020

    An op-ed by Bob Bauer and Jack GoldsmithNow that Donald Trump’s time in the White House is ending, an urgent task is the reform of the presidency that for four years he sought to shape in his image and to run in his personal and political self-interest. What the those years have shown is that the array of laws and norms that arose after Watergate and Vietnam requires an overhaul. Any program for reform of the presidency must give precedence to our health and economic crises. It must also acknowledge political realities. Some reforms can be carried out by the executive branch, but others require legislation. Those must attract at least modest bipartisan support in the Senate. With these constraints in mind, an agenda for reform of the presidency could realistically reflect the following priorities: Executive Branch Reforms. These reforms should focus on restoring the integrity of the rule of law, especially to check presidential interventions in law enforcement for self-protection or to harm political enemies. The Constitution vests executive law enforcement power in the president, so the executive branch must institute most of these reforms. Internal branch reforms lack legal enforceability but can establish or reinforce guardrails that constrain even norm-breaking presidencies, especially by influencing presidential subordinates. Because President Trump defied them regularly, and sometimes his Justice Department did, too, there’s a lot of skepticism about norms. But actually norms succeeded more in checking him than has been appreciated — for example, in ensuring that Robert Mueller, despite Mr. Trump’s opposition, could complete his inquiry; in protecting federal prosecutors in New York in any investigation of matters related to Mr. Trump; and in preventing the Justice Department from carrying out the president’s desire to prosecute his enemies.

  • Quick Thoughts on the Russia Hack

    December 16, 2020

    An op-ed by Jack GoldsmithDavid Sanger, building on a Reuters story, reports in the New York Times that some country, probably Russia, “broke into a range of key government networks, including in the Treasury and Commerce Departments, and had free access to their email systems.” The breach appears to be much broader. “[N]ational security-related agencies were also targeted, though it was not clear whether the systems contained highly classified material.” The Department of Homeland Security appears to be one of those agencies. Sanger says that the “intrusions have been underway for months” and that “the hackers have had free rein for much of the year.” The original Reuters story on Dec. 13 noted that people familiar with the hacks “feared the hacks uncovered so far may be the tip of the iceberg.” On the evening of Dec. 13, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued an Emergency Directive to all federal civilian agencies to review their networks for indicators of compromise. This attack is the latest in a long string of other serious breaches of government networks by insiders and outsiders in the past decade—for example, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in 2014-2015; the White House, State Department, and Joint Chiefs email breach during those same years; the 2016 theft of CIA hacking tools; the Shadow Brokers theft of National Security Agency tools in 2017; and Edward Snowden’s mammoth disclosures in 2013 and beyond. These events constitute a stunning display of the U.S. government’s porous defenses of sensitive government networks and databases.

  • On the Bookshelf: HLS Library Book Talks, Spring 2018 2

    On the bookshelf

    December 15, 2020

    In the unusual year of 2020, Harvard Law authors continued to do what they always have: Write.

  • The Failed Transparency Regime for Executive Agreements

    December 14, 2020

    An article by Curtis Bradley, Jack Goldsmith, and Oona Hathaway: In late October, the United States and Sudan reportedly signed a bilateral agreement “to resolve claims arising from the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya.” This agreement apparently requires Sudan to pay hundreds of millions of dollars and commits the United States to enact legislation that would restore Sudan’s immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which it lost when it was deemed a state sponsor of terrorism. A side agreement apparently even included specific legislative text and gave Sudan a veto over any changes to it. The Sudan agreement was not concluded as an Article II treaty, which must be submitted to the Senate for the advice and consent of two-thirds of the senators present. (The Article II process, as we have previously discussed, is now practically dead.) Instead, like hundreds of other agreements concluded in recent years—and thousands concluded in recent decades—the agreement appears to have been concluded through what is known as an “executive agreement”—a binding international agreement made by the president based on his own constitutional authority or authority granted in advance by Congress. Despite its importance, the public currently has no access to this agreement. The executive branch is not required to publish executive agreements until 180 days after they have entered into force. Nor is this agreement subject to review or approval by Congress. In fact, the executive branch is not even legally obligated to disclose such agreements to Congress until after the agreements are already binding on the United States.

  • Fixing The Norms That President Trump Has Broken

    December 3, 2020

    The Trump presidency has exposed many vulnerabilities in the laws and norms that govern presidential behavior. His brazen disrespect demands action to protect against a future president who might build on Trump's playbook. President Trump has flouted norms against conflicts-of-interest and courting foreign interference, abused his pardon power, threatened nuclear war, used the office to attack political foes, the press, and the judiciary, and refused to concede an election that he lost. He's not the first president to abuse presidential power and he's not the only problem. Congress has abdicated too much of the power they once used to better oversee and constrain presidential power. The good news is that we now have an opportunity to codify certain norms most vulnerable to abuse. Do we have the political will? Guest: Jack Goldsmith is a professor at Harvard Law School, co-founder of Lawfare, and a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. He served as the head of the Office of Legal Counsel during the George W. Bush Administration. Administration. He’s the co-author, with Bob Bauer, of “After Trump: Reconstructing the Presidency”.

  • Reining in growing powers of the presidency

    November 23, 2020

    Both Republicans and Democrats have voiced concerns over the past few decades about the expansion of presidential powers — some of it ceded by Congress looking for political cover, much of it a result of White House legal interpretations of constitutional gray areas. The balance of power now tilts in favor of the Oval Office, but since President Richard Nixon leaders have held themselves largely in check, respecting long-established informal rules and norms. Then came President Trump...In a new book, “After Trump: Reconstructing the Presidency,” attorneys Bob Bauer ’73 and Jack L. Goldsmith, veterans of Democratic and Republican White Houses, respectively, propose what they say are long-overdue reforms to the Office of the President that can rein in future presidents who try to exploit the position for their political or personal benefit. Goldsmith, Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, served as assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel during the George W. Bush administration. He writes frequently about national security, government, and politics, and is a founding editor of Lawfare. Bauer, a longtime legal adviser to President Barack Obama who is now advising the Biden campaign, is widely regarded as a leading authority on executive branch powers. He served as White House counsel from 2008 to 2011 and is now a professor of the practice and distinguished scholar in residence at NYU Law.

  • Jack Goldsmith on why fears of a Trump coup are nonsense

    November 19, 2020

    An op-ed by Jack Goldsmith: Long before Donald Trump became president it was widely believed that he would spark a “constitutional crisis” if elected. And during his term in office there were panicked claims that he was just on the verge of destroying the American constitutional order: when Mr Trump threatened to defy judicial orders related to the Muslim ban, and to fire or stop Special Counsel Robert Mueller; and when he made absolutist executive-power claims in defying congressional subpoenas for his tax returns and urged prosecution of his political enemies. In these and many other contexts, Mr Trump’s verbal assaults and threats, incessant norm-defiance and claims of absolute power provoked four years of vertiginous panic. Mr Trump was so discombobulating that relatively few noticed that these and many other worst-case scenarios never played out. Mr Trump has left enormous damage in his wake—to the psyche of many Americans, to many institutions of American democracy and to beaten-down citizens’ confidence in these institutions. There is much repair work to be done. Yet the most remarkable fact about his presidency is how well the American constitutional system stood up to and survived it. This was true, most importantly, in the recent presidential election. Hundreds of stories and reports warned about foreign hacking, domestic and foreign disinformation, violence, insecure voting machines, voter suppression and pandemic-related problems. Yet more Americans than ever (approximately 150m) voted for president. And the election “was the most secure in American history,” according to federal election infrastructure experts.

  • illustration--presidents desk with scafolding in front of it

    Reforming the Presidency

    November 16, 2020

    Jack Goldsmith speaks with the Bulletin about the most effective approach to regulating the executive branch, “the absolute low point” of presidential relations with the press, and the one issue on which he, an independent, and his co-author, a Democrat, could not agree.

  • The Abnormal Presidency

    November 12, 2020

    At a frenetic and freewheeling rally in Macon, Ga., in mid-October, with less than three weeks to go before the election, President Trump turned introspective. He reflected on what sets him apart from every other president in American history: his refusal to be presidential...One of the things Trump has forced presidential scholars to realize “is the extent to which shamelessness in a president is really empowering,” says Jack Goldsmith, a former Justice Department official in the George W. Bush administration who teaches at Harvard Law School. The current presidency also reveals “the extent to which the whole system before Trump was built on a basic assumption about a range of reasonableness among presidents, a range of willingness to play within the system, a range of at least a modicum of understanding of political and normative constraints.” Goldsmith and others argue that Trump’s steamrolling of norms could do lasting damage to both the stature of the presidency and the institutions of democracy if reforms aren’t devised to bolster the fragile tissue of these shared understandings... “When you pound the Justice Department and pound the intelligence community as being corrupt, incompetent, making up stories about what they do, it’s enormously demoralizing for those institutions,” says Jack Goldsmith, the former Justice Department official. “It reduces the legitimacy of those institutions in the eyes of the country.”

  • What next for Trump? The defeated president faces difficult moments

    November 9, 2020

    Since Election Day, President Trump has stayed on the attack, repeatedly accusing Democrats of seeking to steal the election and calling the continued counting of votes a “fraud on the American public.” He has said he would appeal to the Supreme Court to intervene, and promised to carry on the fight. Now, with Joe Biden declared the next president, Trump has a choice: Will he concede, making the hard and humiliating choice all his predecessors as presidential also-rans have had to make? Or will he continue to wage a scorched-earth battle in an effort to overturn the results or to poison the well as Biden takes over? ... No matter what he hears, Trump is facing legal peril if he leaves office and loses his immunity from prosecution as a sitting president. Trump is facing two investigations by law enforcement officials in New York. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, have been independently investigating potential crimes in Trump’s business practices before he became president...Jack Goldsmith, a professor at Harvard Law School, said it’s unclear whether a president could pardon himself. “The question is entirely novel,” he said. “The Justice Department has suggested in passing, without analysis, that a president cannot self-pardon. Scholars are all over the map.” But presidential pardons don’t extend to charges emerging from state investigations. If Trump were to try to escape charges by fleeing to another country, it’s unclear what would happen. Trump has mused about leaving the country if he loses. “Extradition treaties will determine this,” Goldsmith said. As the president continues to discredit the election results, the future of the nation’s democracy could hang in the balance.

  • Why Trump Can’t Afford to Lose

    November 2, 2020

    The President was despondent. Sensing that time was running out, he had asked his aides to draw up a list of his political options...The downfall of Richard Nixon, in the summer of 1974, was, as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein relate in “The Final Days,” one of the most dramatic in American history...No American President has ever been charged with a criminal offense. But, as Donald Trump fights to hold on to the White House, he and those around him surely know that if he loses—an outcome that nobody should count on—the presumption of immunity that attends the Presidency will vanish...Though Trump doesn’t have the power to pardon or commute a New York State court conviction, he can pardon virtually anyone facing federal charges—including, arguably, himself. When Nixon, a lawyer, was in the White House, he concluded that he had this power, though he felt that he would disgrace himself if he attempted to use it. Nixon’s own Justice Department disagreed with him when it was asked whether a President could, in fact, self-pardon. The acting Assistant Attorney General, Mary C. Lawton, issued a memo proclaiming, in one sentence with virtually no analysis, that, “under the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case, it would seem that the question should be answered in the negative.” However, the memo went on to suggest that, if the President were declared temporarily unable to perform the duties of the office, the Vice-President would become the acting President, and in that capacity could pardon the President, who could then either resign or resume the duties of the office. To date, that is the only known government opinion on the issue, according to Jack Goldsmith, who, under George W. Bush, headed the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and now teaches at Harvard Law School. Recently, Goldsmith and Bob Bauer, a White House counsel under Barack Obama, co-wrote “After Trump: Reconstructing the Presidency,” in which the bipartisan pair offer a blueprint for remedying some of the structural weaknesses exposed by Trump. Among their proposals is a rule explicitly prohibiting Presidents from pardoning themselves. They also propose that bribery statutes be amended to prevent Presidents from using pardons to bribe witnesses or obstruct justice. Such reforms would likely come too late to stop Trump, Goldsmith noted: “If he loses—if—we can expect that he’ll roll out pardons promiscuously, including to himself.”

  • Does the US Still Interfere in Foreign Elections?

    October 29, 2020

    An article by Jack GoldsmithFour years after Russia’s interference in the 2016 US presidential election, more countries seem to be joining the game in the run-up to this year’s vote on November 3. In August, William Evanina, director of the US National Counterintelligence and Security Center, warned about “ongoing and potential” electoral influence efforts by Russia, China, and Iran. Last week, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and FBI Director Christopher A. Wray disclosed that Russia and Iran had obtained US voter registration data. “[T]he two countries are stepping in to try to influence the presidential election as it enters its final two weeks,” concluded the New York Times. Americans have been understandably outraged and alarmed about foreign electoral interference. But the practice is not new; in fact, the United States was for a long time its leading exponent. As Dov Levin shows in his book, Meddling in the Ballot Box, the US and the Soviet Union (and subsequently Russia) engaged in 117 covert or overt foreign electoral interventions to help or hinder candidates or parties between 1946 and 2000, with the US accounting for 81 of these cases (or 69% of the total). One of the most famous examples of US foreign electoral interference came at the dawn of the Cold War in 1948, when the CIA (in its first covert action) secretly subsidized public efforts to ensure that communist candidates were defeated in elections in Italy. It also spent millions of dollars on propaganda efforts and supporting favored Italian politicians. These and similar practices, covert and overt, continued throughout the Cold War. CIA historian David Robarge told David Shimer, author of the book Rigged, that during this period, the Agency “‘hardly ever’ altered votes directly,” which implies that it sometimes did.

  • Watergate Led to Reforms. Now, Would-Be Reformers Believe, So Will Trump.

    October 21, 2020

    After the twin traumas of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal came a period of change in the nation’s capital. The system set about reinventing itself to realign the balance of power, establish new guardrails for those in high office and try to enforce greater accountability. Two weeks before an election that will determine whether President Trump wins another term or is repudiated by voters, some in both parties are already looking beyond him to map out a similar rewriting of the rules. After four years in which the old post-Watergate norms have been shattered, the would-be reformers anticipate a counterreaction to establish new ones. “It’s pretty obvious that Trump has, through his actions and words, exposed a number of weaknesses in the normative and legal restraints on the presidency,” said Jack L. Goldsmith, a Harvard Law School professor. “He has revealed that there are a lot of gaps in presidential accountability and that norms are not as solid as we thought. He has revealed that the presidency is due for an overhaul for accountability akin to the 1974 reforms.” Mr. Goldsmith, an assistant attorney general under President George W. Bush, has teamed up with Robert F. Bauer, a White House counsel under President Barack Obama, to produce what they hope could be a bipartisan blueprint for what such an overhaul would look like. Among their ideas are empowering future special counsels; restricting a president’s pardon power and private business interests; and protecting journalists from government intimidation. They are not the only ones looking ahead.

  • The First Amendment in the age of disinformation.

    October 20, 2020

    This summer, a bipartisan group of about a hundred academics, journalists, pollsters, former government officials and former campaign staff members convened for an initiative called the Transition Integrity Project. By video conference, they met to game out hypothetical threats to the November election and a peaceful transfer of power if the Democratic candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden, were to win...The idea was to test the machinery of American democracy...Along with disinformation campaigns, there is the separate problem of “troll armies” — a flood of commenters, often propelled by bots — that “aim to discredit or to destroy the reputation of disfavored speakers and to discourage them from speaking again,” Jack Goldsmith, a conservative law professor at Harvard, writes in an essay in “The Perilous Public Square,” a book edited by David E. Pozen that was published this year. This tactic, too, may be directed by those in power...Concerns about the harm of unfettered speech have flared on the left in the United States since the 1970s. In that decade, some feminists, led by the legal scholar Catharine A. MacKinnon and the activist Andrea Dworkin, fought to limit access to pornography, which they viewed as a form of subordination and a violation of women’s civil rights. In the 1980s and ’90s, scholars developing critical race theory, which examines the role of law in maintaining race-based divisions of power, called for a reading of the First Amendment that recognized racist hate speech as an injury that courts could redress...The Supreme Court has also taken the First Amendment in another direction that had nothing to do with individual rights, moving from preserving a person’s freedom to dissent to entrenching the power of wealthy interests. In the 1970s, the court started protecting corporate campaign spending alongside individual donations. Legally speaking, corporate spending on speech that was related to elections was akin to the shouting of protesters. This was a “radical break with the history and traditions of U.S. law,” the Harvard law professor John Coates wrote in a 2015 article published by the University of Minnesota Law School. Over time, the shift helped to fundamentally alter the world of politics.