Is prosecuting a former president worth it?

In their new book After Trump, Goldsmith and Obama-era White House counsel Bob Bauer survey the Trump administration and make specific detailed suggestions on how to reform and remake the presidency—sometimes by turning norms into laws, and sometimes by reforming the executive branch from within. The co-authors’ one area of disagreement in the book comes on the question of prosecuting a former president: Both see it as enormously costly for the country, but disagree whether the benefits outweigh those costs.

“My view is that we cannot have an executive branch law that immunizes the president while in office, and then a norm that protects the president from prosecution when he or she leaves office—so that no matter which way you turn, the president is protected from the consequences of criminal misconduct in office,” says Bauer. “Any impression that the presidency is a ‘get out of jail free’ card is very troubling.”

For Goldsmith, the argument for caution is based in pragmatism and an understanding of what a prosecution would entail and how disruptive it would be. “Ultimately … it’s not worth the candle because of the damage it would do to the nation and to the governing party in power,” says Goldsmith.