Debate team pits Mueller vs. Trump in Constitution Day debate at Morris


Sophia Julio, a senior studying Anthropology (left) and Jordan Coutcher, a sophomore studying Political Science, whisper while a member of the affirmative side speaks, Monday, Sept. 17, 2018, during the 8th Annual Constitution Day Debate, in Morris Library. (Corrin Hunt | @CorrinIHunt)

By Kallie Cox, Staff Reporter

On Constitution Day, Sept. 17, Morris Library held its eighth annual debate. The SIU debate team normally debates an amendment on Constitution day, however this year they made the decision to debate the Mueller investigation.

Dr. Todd Graham, the director of debate at SIU, said they decided to hold the debate on the Mueller investigation because of the constitutional questions that have arisen from it.

When asked what he hoped students would take away from the debate, Graham said he hoped they would learn more about the Mueller investigation of Trump.


“It has been going on for 16 months,” Graham said. ”What we wanted to do was to debate the Mueller investigation, so that people would learn more about its constitutionality if Trump can pardon himself, if the Mueller investigation is constitutional and if he can fire Mueller.”

Anna Xiong, a government information librarian and co-organizer of the debate, said it is legally required for any government funded higher education institution to have an educational celebration on Constitution Day.

“Morris Library is the largest federal depository library in Illinois,” Xiong said. “We serve as a bridge between the U.S government and the taxpayers. We make government documents more visible and accessible to people.”

Xiong said she hoped students who attended the event would be more aware of the constitution and its impact on their daily lives.

The affirmative team for this year’s debate consisted of Farrah Blaydes, Tim Keown, and Drew Arnone-Hillis.

The affirmative team said Trump is wrong on all three of his constitutional claims regarding Robert Mueller’s investigation. The negative team said Trump is right in regard to one or more of his constitutional claims.

The negative team debaters were: Sophia Julio, Jordan Coutcher, and Lexie Phillips.


The three constitutional claims regarding the Mueller investigation that was being debated were: whether or not the appointment of special counsel Mueller is constitutional, whether Trump can fire Mueller, and whether or not Trump can pardon himself.

At the beginning of the debate, audience members were asked to vote whether they believed the Mueller investigation was constitutional or not.

All but one audience member sided with the affirmative that Trump is wrong in his claims and the investigation is constitutional.

Sophia Julio, a student from the negative side of the debate team, presented her team’s opening arguments.

“We are here to argue that Donald Trump is correct on all of the following accounts,” Julio said. “The appointment of special counsel is unconstitutional, that Trump can fire Robert Mueller, and that he can pardon himself.”

Julio’s first argument was the scope of the investigation is too broad and it exceeds the original scope of the Russia collusion investigation, and that Mueller has been given the power to act as a principal officer, but has never been confirmed by the Senate as a principal officer.

Her second argument was that Trump can fire the special counsel because he is the executive power and can repeal the regulation protecting Mueller.

Julio’s third argument in favor of her claims is that Trump can pardon himself because he is a United States citizen and the constitution allows the president to pardon all citizens of the United States.

Tim Keown presented the rebuttal to Julio’s arguments from the affirmative side.

Keown said Trump would not be able to fire Mueller because to do so, he would need a lot of cooperation from Congress which Keown says is unlikely to occur.

Keown said Trump could be impeached and lose his power to pardon himself. He also said although it is not expressly written in the constitution, it is also not written that he can.

“Imagine that Trump came in here right now and said ‘I am going to pardon myself for anything that I am going to do,’” Keown said. “‘I am going to kill you, you, you and you. And I am pardoned for it.’”

Keown then asked the audience if they would be inclined to call Trump president after he did this.

Keown said if Trump had the power to pardon himself, he would have the same level of power as a king, and that because the constitution was specifically invented to prevent a monarchy, the office of president can never hold absolute power.

“If the constitution is not there for anything else,” Keown said. “it is there to stop the president from becoming a king.”

After the rebuttals from both sides concluded, the audience cross-examined the debate teams from each side.

Drew Arnone-Hillis presented the closing statements from the affirmative side.

“Over this debate, we have been discussing why Donald Trump is wrong over all three of his constitutional and legal claims,” Arnone-Hillis said. “We believe that the topic is true therefore Trump is wrong.”

Arnone-Hillis said the appointment of Mueller is constitutional because it is legal and has already been upheld within the courts and the scope of the investigation is appropriate.

Arnone-Hillis said Trump cannot fire Mueller because only the head of the department of justice has the authority to fire a special counsel.

Arnone-Hillis said Chief White House ethics lawyers, Richard Painter, and Norman Isaacs said the U.S. Constitution does not allow pardoning powers in the process of impeachment.

“Trump cannot pardon himself,” Arnone-Hillis said. “Because the U.S constitution does not allow it.”

Lexie Phillips gave the closing from the negative side.

“We believe that the topic is false and therefore Trump is correct at least in one area of the legal claims,” Phillips said.

Phillips said Mueller is now acting as a principal officer rather than an inferior officer since he has broadened the scope of the investigation, and that Trump has the ability to fire Mueller.

Phillips also said it is not specifically prohibited for Trump to pardon himself in the constitution, therefore he can.

After the conclusion of the debate, more people voted in favor of Trump’s claims that in the initial vote, but the majority of the audience still favored the affirmative team’s claim that Mueller’s investigation is constitutional.

Staff reporter Kallie Cox can be reached at or on Twitter at @KallieC45439038.

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