Trump: I could pardon myself — but why bother?

Christopher Wilson
Senior Writer

President Trump asserted explicitly for the first time that he could pardon himself for any crimes he might have committed — of which, he insisted, there aren’t any.

“As has been stated by numerous legal scholars,” Trump wrote in a Monday morning tweet, “I have the absolute right to PARDON myself, but why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong? In the meantime, the never ending Witch Hunt, led by 13 very Angry and Conflicted Democrats (& others) continues into the mid-terms!”

The “Witch Hunt” Trump referenced is Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation, which to this point has resulted in over 100 charges against 19 different people, including Trump campaign staffers Paul Manafort, Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos, along with former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Mueller is a Republican who was appointed FBI director by President George W. Bush.

President Trump said he has “absolute right to PARDON” himself but has “done nothing wrong” in the Russia probe. (Photo: AP/Evan Vucci)

Trump floated the idea of pardoning himself last summer when he said the president has the “complete power to pardon.” That followed a Washington Post report that Trump had asked about “his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself.” A member of Trump’s legal team discussed the possibility during Sunday’s talk shows.

“Pardoning himself would be unthinkable and probably lead to immediate impeachment,” Rudy Giuliani told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. ”And he has no need to do it; he’s done nothing wrong.”

“I think the political ramifications would be tough,” Giuliani added on ABC News. ”Pardoning other people is one thing; pardoning yourself is tough.”

Could Trump actually pardon himself? There is no precedent for it and legal scholars say it’s uncertain. Lawrence Tribe, who served as the White House chief ethics lawyer under George W. Bush, wrote last year that a president couldn’t pardon himself.

In response to Trump’s tweet, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., tweeted out a link to a Department of Justice legal opinion from 1974 — a few days before Richard Nixon resigned — whose first sentence reads:  “Under the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case, the President cannot pardon himself.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., put it bluntly.

“Only in a two-bit tin horn totalitarian dictatorship could the President even consider pardoning himself from all accountability,” Blumenthal wrote on Twitter. “It’s unthinkable in this great country, and already legally indisputable.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley, Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee, concurred with Blumenthal’s assessment.

If I were president of the United States and I had a lawyer that said I could pardon myself, I think I would hire a new lawyer,” Grassley told CNN.

Michigan State law professor and constitutional scholar Brian Kalt told Yahoo News it was more complicated.

“I’ve been writing about this for 20 years,” Kalt said in an interview last July, “and it just amuses me any time I see commentary, people saying, ‘Well, of course he can,’ or ‘Well, of course he can’t.’ The answer is we don’t know.”

“Any court that took this question, it would be appealed up to the Supreme Court,” continued Kalt, “and they could do whatever they want. … I favor the argument that he can’t. But there are good arguments on both sides. It could go either way. The basic argument on the side that says he can do it is, look at the Constitution and it doesn’t say he can’t. It says he can pardon federal crimes. It says in another clause he can’t pardon an impeachment away; he can’t stop or undo an impeachment. … Those are the only limits.”

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