CNN Commentator Says Donald Trump Pardoning Himself Would Be Admission of Guilt

CNN political commentator S.E. Cupp suggested on Thursday that if President Donald Trump decides to pardon himself, it will be a "tacit" admission that he's guilty of something.

Speaking on the network on Thanksgiving afternoon, Cupp said the presidential pardon power should be re-examined once Trump has left office and that a self-pardon could harm the president's chances if he chooses to run in 2024.

"I actually think it's time to look at the power of the pardon, not because of what Donald Trump is doing, but because for decades if not centuries, and in fact over multiple administrations, the power of the pardon has been abused," Cupp said.

"So where Donald Trump has taken pardons today and may take them over the next few weeks, months, is almost inevitable."

"Where Trump is today is sort of the next logical conclusion of this power. We should start taking a look at whether it is being used and has been used over decades the way the Founders intended it," Cupp said.

Trump pardoned his former national security advisor, retired Lt. General Michael Flynn, this week. Flynn had pled guilty to lying to the FBI but later sought to withdraw that plea.

Cupp, whom CNN describes as a "practical conservative" and has criticized Trump in the past, suggested that a pardon would indicate that the president had committed some crime requiring clemency.

"If the president has designs on running again for president, this would certainly imperil that, and I would think encourage other justice departments to really look at what he had done while in office," she said.

"If he is tacitly admitting he needed to be pardoned for stuff. I'm not sure this is constitutional or legal, but it seems pretty clear it would be inadvisable for him to do that," Cupp said.

Cupp is correct that there are legal and constitutional questions about whether a president can pardon himself. The principle has never been tested and legal experts told Newsweek on November 18 that the matter would likely end up in court.

However, it is also not clear that accepting a pardon is an admission of guilt. While the Supreme Court has suggested in the past that a pardon carries an imputation of guilt, this view is not legally binding.

"[I]t is incorrect to say, as many, many people do, that accepting a pardon equals an official admission of guilt," Brian Kalt, professor of law at Michigan State University told Newsweek. Some scholars have the opposite opinion, however.

 Trump Speaks in the Diplomatic Room
President Donald Trump speaks in the Diplomatic Room of the White House on Thanksgiving on November 26, 2020 in Washington, DC. Trump had earlier made the traditional call to members of the military stationed abroad through video teleconference. There is increasing speculation about Trump pardoning himself. Erin Schaff - Pool/Getty Images