Can Trump Pardon Himself?

In a tweet Monday morning, President Trump fired his latest volley of criticism over the Russia probe.

"As has been stated by numerous legal scholars, 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!" Trump tweeted.

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A digital billboard appears in Times Square on November 21, 2017 in New York, funded by Tom Steyer, the billionaire environmentalist and Democrat, urging the impeachment of U.S. President Donald Trump. The president claims he has the power to pardon himself. GettyImages

The president echoed the argument put forth by his lawyers in a memo to the U.S. special counsel investigating Russia that was made public in media reports over the weekend.

But is the president right? Many legal scholars hold the same view and think the president's pardoning power, as outlined in the Constitution, is unlimited.

Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution describes the pardon power as allowing a president to "grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment."

"As a textual matter, there is nothing to prevent Trump from adding his own name to the list of pardoned individuals," wrote Jonathan Turley, Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University, in USA Today.

His arguments were echoed by University of California, Berkeley law professor and former legal adviser to the Geoge W. Bush administration John Yoo, who said the Constitution grants the president virtually unlimited pardon power.

"President Trump can clearly pardon anyone—even himself—subject to the Mueller investigation," Professor Yoo wrote.

The president is even authorized to issue pardons in cases where no criminal charges have been filed, leaving the path open for Trump to issue a blanket pardon for those investigated by the Russia probe, according to experts.

"He can definitely pardon people who haven't been charged yet," Brian Kalt, a law professor at Michigan State University, told Vox. "And, contrary to a common misconception, it doesn't require as a legal matter that he say they are guilty."

There are dissenting voices, too.

Harvard professor Laurence Tribe, Minnesota professor Richard Painter and Brookings Institution fellow Norman Eisen have interpreted Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution to bar self-pardons.

In a Washington Post op-ed they wrote, "The Constitution specifically bars the president from using the pardon power to prevent his own impeachment and removal," and "that provision would make no sense if the president could pardon himself."

"President Trump thinks he can do a lot of things just because he is president," the authors wrote. "But there is one thing we know that Trump cannot do—without being a first in all of human history. He cannot pardon himself."

Even if it is granted that Trump possesses the authority to do so, pardoning himself would not protect him from impeachment, and could even be cited as cause in articles of impeachment.

Former New York mayor and Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani denied in an interview Sunday that Trump was considering such a move and admitted that such an act was likely viewed by the president as "unthinkable and [would] probably lead to immediate impeachment."

Former U.S. attorney and legal analyst Preet Bharara agreed.

"I think [if] the president decided he was going to pardon himself, I think that's almost self-executing impeachment," Bharara said on CNN's State of the Union. "Whether or not there is a minor legal argument that some law professor somewhere in a legal journal can make that the president can pardon, that's not what the framers could have intended. That's not what the American people, I think, would be able to stand for."

Can Trump Pardon Himself? | U.S.