Great Course: Investigating American Presidents

Join us for the start of a new course from the Great Courses series.  We will be watching and discussing “Investigating American Presidents” at 2pm in the Den on Thursdays for the next 12 weeks.

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.