While Donald Trump hasn’t exactly made an admission of guilt in the Russian scandal, but in a shocking story that just broke in the Washington Post, he’s at least privately entertaining the idea that he will be prosecuted and possibly found guilty. Now he’s asking if he can pardon family members, staff and even himself.
Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the probe, according to one of those people. A second person said Trump’s lawyers have been discussing the president’s pardoning powers among themselves.
Trump’s legal team declined to comment on the issue. But one adviser said the president has simply expressed a curiosity in understanding the reach of his pardoning authority, as well as the limits of Mueller’s investigation.
“This is not in the context of, ‘I can’t wait to pardon myself,’ ” a close adviser said.
Source: Washington Post
This report comes in the same day a New York Times interview was published with Trump. In the interview, he appeared to threaten Special Counselor Robert Mueller if Mueller dared look into Trump’s personal finances:
Asked if Mr. Mueller’s investigation would cross a red line if it expanded to look at his family’s finances beyond any relationship to Russia, Mr. Trump said, “I would say yes.” He would not say what he would do about it. “I think that’s a violation. Look, this is about Russia.”
Mueller didn’t care, though. On the same day the interview was printed, it was revealed that Mueller’s office is indeed investigating Trump’s businesses, which may be why the sudden interest in Trump pardoning everyone around him, including himself.
As for whether he can do that, well, the Constitution and history are unclear. No President has tried to pardon himself. Nixon thought about it before he resigned and his lawyer advised him that it was within his realm of authority. Note that a president doesn’t have to wait till there are convictions to grant pardons.
So what would happen if Trump attempted a self-pardon? First, some pardon fundamentals: Article II, Section 2, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution gives the president the power to “grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.” Pardons thus can only cover federal criminal offenses and cannot thwart an impeachment (which technically is not a criminal prosecution anyway).
The prosecutor’s argument, while much more complicated, is a stronger one. First, a textual argument: The word “pardon” means something inherently bilateral, something that a sovereign bestows upon a subject. Consider more colloquially that you can beg someone else’s pardon, but you never seek or receive one from yourself. While there is admittedly no explicit limitation on self-pardons, there is no need for one, because a self-pardon is by definition not a “pardon.” Other examples show that the pardon power is subject to inherent limitations like this. For instance, the law is clear that a pardon cannot be prospective — it can only reach offenses committed before the pardon is issued — but that limit is not spelled out in the Constitution either. It is implicit in the definition of a “pardon” as opposed to a suspension of the law.
Source: Foreign Policy
Whether or not it can be done, it would set a very bad precedence and one that even the most partisan Republicans in Congress would find toxic. It could also be very bad for Trump’s businesses.
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