Investigating American Presidents

Course No. 3183
Professor Paul Rosenzweig, JD
The George Washington University Law School
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Course No. 3183
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Unpack the history of how institutions and procedures were set up to curb the powers of the executive branch.
  • numbers Examine the legal advantages a U.S. president has that the average American citizen does not.
  • numbers Discover the key roles that the media and the court of public opinion play in a presidential investigation.
  • numbers Explore the possible limits to the president's ability to pardon specific individuals convicted of a crime.
  • numbers Learn how investigative reports can help historians better understand presidential scandals of the past.

Course Overview

The president of the United States of America can shape not just a nation but the entire world. But what limits are there—if any—on presidential power? How do we keep such awesome authority in check? And who do we trust to shoulder this responsibility?

In the centuries since the founding of the republic, there have been notable challenges to presidential authority. Among these are investigations, designed to seek out and uproot abuses of executive power. They are built on a system of institutions, laws, and policies that govern how our nation protects itself from corruption and tyranny. Even today, we see this system at work in controversies and scandals that appear in the media almost daily.

The potential corruption of presidential power isn’t a new feature of American democracy—and it’s likely not going away anytime soon. How should citizens—not only of the U.S. but of the world—think about and understand investigations into such abuses?

According to law professor Paul Rosenzweig of The George Washington University School of Law, understanding investigations into presidential authority requires grasping the legal framework that surrounds what the president can and cannot do. By exploring how a presidency can be interrogated and challenged, you’ll better understand the effectiveness—and, in some cases, ineffectiveness—of such checks on executive power.

In the 12 eye-opening, timely lectures of Investigating American Presidents, Professor Rosenzweig guides you through the ins and outs of presidential investigations, using past events as a lens through which to make sense of current (and future) ones. You’ll witness the construction of the legal framework that informs how Congress and the courts handle charges of abuse of power. You’ll also dive into the investigations of presidents including Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton as a way to learn what powers exist to ensure that presidents adhere to the rule of law—and how they apply in our current political moment.

Ponder Great Legal and Political Questions

Democratic nations like the United States of America understand the need for executive effectiveness. But they also understand the importance of transparency and accountability.

Investigating American Presidents illuminates the importance of how the American government exercises that need for transparency. With his political and legal insights—based in part on his first-hand experience in the Whitewater investigation of the 1990s—Professor Rosenzweig guides you along the entire path of investigations into potential misuse of presidential power, from the establishment of legislative committees through the impeachment process.

Along the way, you’ll explore fascinating questions including:

  • How is it that a president has the power and authority to fire the person who is investigating him—and does the legality of that power matter?
  • Is it legal to indict a sitting president and, if so, what does that do to the management of the country or the rule of law?
  • What makes the court of public opinion such an invaluable way for a president to fight back against his or her investigators?
  • Which legal principles (such as those involving client confidentiality) apply to a president, and exactly how?
  • What would happen if, after receiving a grand jury subpoena and losing a case before the Supreme Court, a president were to simply refuse to testify?
  • What advantages does a president under investigation have that aren’t available to the average American—and what disadvantages, as well?

Designed to help you better understand the intricacies of everything from presidential pardons and independent counsels to obstruction of justice and the power of public opinion, Professor Rosenzweig’s lectures offer new ways to look at presidential investigations that go beyond the news analyses that you might have read or seen on television.

Examine Famous Presidential Scandals

Investigating American Presidents guides you through some of the most powerful and potent examples of how presidents have tried to misuse their power—and how the government and the public have responded.

You’ll learn about:

  • The Whiskey Ring crisis that reached its climax during President Ulysses S. Grant’s second term in office in 1875, and is seen as one of the singular examples of his mismanagement of the executive branch.
  • The Teapot Dome scandal, which engulfed the administration of Warren G. Harding in 1922 and was considered by one prominent historian as “the most sensational scandal in the history of American politics” before Watergate.
  • The Watergate scandal, which led to Richard Nixon’s resignation from office and persuaded Congress—for a time—of the necessity of a truly independent form of investigative authority (leading to the now-defunct Independent Counsel Act).
  • The Clinton investigations, in which President Clinton employed four different tactics to achieve a public relations victory that convinced the American public his framing of the dispute was the more convincing one.

Get an Unbiased, Nonpartisan Perspective

Throughout the course, Professor Rosenzweig offers a nonpartisan, unbiased view of a sometimes volatile subject. His lectures aren’t concerned with political parties, but rather with the overarching progress and themes of American political and legal history. It’s a comprehensive, balanced perspective that reflects Professor Rosenzweig’s career not just in education but in law. A former prosecutor turned defense attorney and national security lawyer, he uses his career experience in tandem with his insights as a scholar and educator to provide an insider's view of the laws governing executive power and presidential investigations.

The result: 12 lectures that are detailed enough for legal experts yet accessible to learners with only a basic understanding of how the U.S. government and the justice system work.

A Stirring Reminder of American Justice

When a president abuses power, he or she harms the very fabric of American government. Lies, corruption, exploitation—they all undermine American citizens’ belief in the fairness of government and shatter our faith in its long-honored principles.

But Investigating American Presidents provides us with good reason for hope. As Professor Rosenzweig demonstrates, the presidential investigations of the past offer a stirring reminder that no one—not even the “unitary executive” of the presidency created by the Founding Fathers—is completely above the law.

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12 lectures
 |  Average 33 minutes each
  • 1
    American Presidents and the Rule of Law
    How does the investigation of a U.S. president's misconduct differ from an investigation into the misconduct of a private citizen? After exploring the roots of the presidency and presidential power as outlined in the Constitution, consider the advantages and disadvantages a president has during an investigation. Then, Professor Rosenzweig explains why this subject is essential knowledge for any American citizen. x
  • 2
    Presidential Investigations through History
    Presidential crises and abuses of power aren't just features of modern times. Early executive scandals have had significant long-term effects that resonate down the corridors of time. Learn how we're still dealing with the fallout of famous (and sometimes overlooked) investigations into abuses of presidential power, including Ulysses S. Grant's Whiskey Ring and Warren G. Harding's Teapot Dome scandal. x
  • 3
    Separation of Powers and the Presidency
    Today, legislative and judicial oversight of the presidency are a permanent part of American government and critical to limiting and restraining the possibility of executive abuse. In this lecture, learn how our system of checks and balances came to exist-with, among other things, a close look at the landmark judicial review case, Marbury v. Madison. x
  • 4
    Watergate and the Special Prosecutor
    The names of the Watergate burglars are mostly forgotten-but the consequences of their arrest brought down President Richard Nixon. Topics in this lecture include two important Supreme Court cases that shaped a president's power to dismiss personnel, as well as the Independent Counsel Act, which established a truly independent form of investigative authority. x
  • 5
    Rise and Fall of the Independent Counsel
    After the Nixon presidency, Congress and the American public became convinced that an independent investigator function was essential. Twenty years later, they let that function expire. Why did that happen, and what's replaced it? Follow the swing from the special prosecutor of the Nixon era to the independent counsel of the Reagan and Clinton eras back to the special counsel leading the investigation of Russian election hacking and the 2016 Trump campaign. x
  • 6
    Can a Sitting President Be Indicted?
    Assume for a moment that there exists convincing evidence of a president's criminality. What does that do to the country's management? Is it legal to indict a sitting president? Or does the president in question just "get away" with it? Ponder these and other intriguing questions about whether or not a president is in a class of his/her own when it comes to indictments. x
  • 7
    Presidential Use and Abuse of Privileges
    Depending on where you sit, testimonial privileges are either barriers to the truth or limitations on the disclosure of sensitive information. Using the Whitewater and Lewinsky scandals that swirled around President Bill Clinton and his lawyer, Bruce Lindsey, in the late 1990s, explore the topics of attorney-client privilege and executive privilege (the right of the president to withhold information from public scrutiny). x
  • 8
    Presidents, Prosecutors, and Public Opinion
    The most significant confrontation between a president and a president's investigators happens not in a court of law but in the court of public opinion. Often, the storyline" is the deciding factor in how an investigation will be seen by future historians. Examine four different tactics used by President Bill Clinton and his team that helped them achieve a public relations victory." x
  • 9
    The Pardon Power and Its Limits
    Investigate the use (and possible misuse) of presidential pardons. Start by looking at two general types of pardons in American history: the justice and mercy" pardon and the "peacefulness" pardon. Then, focus on key questions about the presidential pardon power: Can American presidents pardon co-conspirators for crimes they've committed, thereby frustrating an investigation? Can they pardon themselves?" x
  • 10
    Presidential Lies and Cover-Ups
    Presidential lies can undermine our belief in the fairness of our system of government and our faith in its legitimacy. In this lecture, focus on how the president isn't special when it comes to certain matters of law and evidence (lying under oath, obstruction of justice, and grand jury subpoenas)-as well as some key caveats to this view. x
  • 11
    The Value of Investigative Reports
    Even if formally cleared of wrongdoing, a president or a presidential aide may live with the stigma of investigation forever thanks to an independent counsel's report. First, explore why many investigations typically happen behind closed doors. Then, turn to how the rules are different for presidents and their senior staff (and whether or not that's a good idea). x
  • 12
    The Law and Politics of Impeachment
    Conclude this lecture series with a study of the nuclear option" in presidential investigations: impeachment. Learn why impeachment is inevitably as much a political event as a legal one-and why, when a presidency is on the line, public opinion is at least as powerful a determinant of the outcome as the laws that are on the books." x

Lecture Titles

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What Does Each Format Include?

Video DVD
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  • Download 12 video lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
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Instant Audio Includes:
  • Download 12 audio lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE audio streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
DVD Includes:
  • 12 lectures on 2 DVDs
  • 134-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
  • Closed captioning available

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

Video DVD
Course Guidebook Details:
  • 134-page printed course guidebook
  • Photos and illustrations
  • Suggested reading
  • Questions to consider

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Your professor

Paul Rosenzweig

About Your Professor

Paul Rosenzweig, JD
The George Washington University Law School
Paul Rosenzweig is a Professorial Lecturer in Law at The George Washington University Law School. He earned his JD from the University of Chicago Law School and then served as a law clerk to the Honorable R. Lanier Anderson III of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. He was chosen as the 15th annual Sommerfeld Lecturer at The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School and was awarded a Carnegie...
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Investigating American Presidents is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 48.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great presentation The presentation is precise and up to date. In the present climate this course is definitely a must.
Date published: 2020-06-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thorough coverage of the topic Professor Rosenzweig is knowledgeable on the subject and presented the information in an orderly, organized manner. He gave examples that helped me understand the points he was making. His presentation style is clear and easy to follow and listen to. What I got from it is that the rules and laws governing investigating and impeaching a leader are not clearly laid out. Very helpful information.
Date published: 2020-05-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Interesting I watched 10 of the 12 videos. Gives you the history and precedence for each item discussed. No clear answers but certainly gives you ways of considering things. Done while the Mueller report was on going.
Date published: 2019-09-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An important and timely issue Even though I have not yet completed this course, I know that it brings an important perspective to current political and social issues. The instructor explores the history of presidential investigations in a lucid and comprehensive manner.
Date published: 2019-08-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is a truly great course on the basics of balance amongst the often competing interests of the the Executive, Legislative and Judiciary within the American government. Planning and delivery by Professor Rosenzweig is superb. I look forward to an advanced course.
Date published: 2019-07-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Knowledgeable Professor Although the professor was knowledgeable and didn't rely on a teleprompter, I found some of his lectures jumped back and forth with examples. He would start talking about Nixon and suddenly he would be talking about Grant. It made him hard to follow. I also felt that he should have avoided talking about the Mueller report as it had not yet been completed when the lecture was taped.
Date published: 2019-06-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Investigating American Presidents Since the November 2018 mid-term elections, I have been captivated by the "goings-on" in Washington. Cable news, perhaps, has its' place but I hungered for a dispassionate and knowledgeable presentation of politics, law and context. Professor Rosenzweig's erudite and engaging lectures bring much solace to the casual observer of the confusion and upset that presently engulfs the highest political levels of your great country. This present "situation" has history, context and is a fascinating interplay of law and politics. Professor Rosenzweig brings this history, context and interplay very much alive in these lectures. I very much enjoyed them. I now feel able to follow the present with more knowledge, awareness and calm.
Date published: 2019-05-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good Excellent and timely. Good historical background. G
Date published: 2019-05-09
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