President Donald Trump isn’t the first to call a controversial pardon, but he is the first president to publicly debate the idea of pardoning himself.
The long-debated question of whether it’s possible for a president to pardon himself may finally have an answer thanks to a law professor and two former chief White House ethics lawyers. They revealed what would likely happen if President Trump attempted to pardon himself as well as what we can expect from the president’s use of the pardon power.
Rudy Giuliani, a member of the president’s legal counsel, went on This Week with George Stephanopoulos to state that the president “has no intention of pardoning himself, but that doesn’t say he can’t.”
Giuliani followed up and called the idea a “really interesting constitutional argument.” While experts believe Giuliani might have a point, they remain cynical of his laissez-faire attitude indicating Trump could simply put himself above the law.
Trump’s longtime friend and potential target of the Muller investigation, Roger Stone, called Trump’s pardon of commentator Dinesh D’Souza “a signal … The special counsel has awesome powers, as you know, but the president has even more awesome powers.” Stone was likely referring to Trump’s seven clemency acts, each of which were issued unilaterally and skipped the Justice Department’s process of reviewing the thousands of pardon requests, according to the Washington Post.
Per usual, the president took to Twitter to express his views on the matter. He cited “numerous legal scholars” stated he was allowed to pardon himself. “I have the absolute right to PARDON myself, but why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong?” Trump wrote.
Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution defines the president’s pardon power as allowing a president to “grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.” Nothing indicates the specifics for who may be subject to a pardon. However, Trump’s recent use of the pardon power indicates he’s certainly a fan of the largest unrestricted power available to him.
Trump has granted seven clemencies so far including five pardons and two sentence commutations. He recently met with Kim Kardashian-West and reviewed her case for the sentence commutation of Alice Marie Johnson, a prisoner serving a life sentence for nonviolent drug charges. It’s notable that Trump met with Kardashian-West days after her husband, Kanye West, revealed his support for Trump in a controversial Twitter rant.
Trump also said he was debating pardoning Martha Stewart and argued she was unfairly treated by the justice system.
While Trump’s legal sources argue he has every right to pardon himself, a Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University, Jonathan Turley, brought up what would happen if he tried to.
The founders’ language in the Constitution draws a simple line, Turley argues: Impeachments concern the office holder, while pardons the individual. So even if Trump were to pardon himself from any wrongdoing the Mueller investigation uncovers, he wouldn’t escape potential impeachment. In fact, most Americans would back it.
“A president cannot pardon out of an impeachment,” Turley said. Congress, he said, “can use his pardon as an abuse of his office.”
It’s also crucial to note that if the president attempted to pardon himself, he would be the first to do so. By attempting to pardon himself at any point, Turley argued President Trump would set in motion a clear Supreme Court case debating constitutional authority and the separation of power.
So while we’re all left debating what could happen, if Trump were to attempt to pardon himself, the debate would take a legitimate structure in the form of a Supreme Court case to set precedent for future leaders.
Two former chief White House ethics lawyers — one for President George W. Bush, the other for President Barack Obama — and a Harvard Constitutional law professor analyzed the Constitution and case of President Richard Nixon. They came to the conclusion that Trump cannot pardon himself — lest he be the first human “in all of human history” to do so.
Days before Richard Nixon resigned, Nixon’s Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel opined a president cannot pardon themselves, citing “the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case.” So while the debate over President Trump’s ultimate power rages on, one thing stands clear: the Constitution makes clear that no one is above the law.
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