Norms

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It is well-nigh incomprehensible that the President would call the Federal Bureau of Investigation to inquire about any pending criminal investigation. The norm is the generally and well-understood one: that the President, while responsible for the leadership of the Department and certainly able to dictate legal policy, including criminal justice policy, should refrain from any attempt to influence criminal enforcement decisions. The operative distinction is between setting the substance and priorities for criminal law enforcement and deciding on particular prosecutions. A president is certainly free to determine the former, and indeed that’s what the chief executive is elected to do. But the president should never attempt to influence the latter, for the simple and obvious reason that we would not want the most senior political figure in government deciding upon whom to visit the cost and potential ruin of criminal prosecution.