WASHINGTON — Can the commander-in-chief pardon himself? President Donald Trump sure thinks so, even though lawmakers broadly agree that such action would be “catastrophic” for him from both a legal and political perspective.
“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?” Trump mused on Twitter Monday morning. “In the meantime, the never ending Witch Hunt, led by 13 very Angry and Conflicted Democrats (& others) continues into the mid-terms!”
Legal experts dismissed the idea that Trump — or any president — would be allowed to pardon himself for anything. While there has yet to be precedent for such a thing, constitutional structure for that kind of overreach already exists.
But in the Senate, which is a co-equal branch of government to the executive, Republican lawmakers were all over the place about what is and is not legal for the president.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, who also serves on the Judiciary Committee, told Business Insider that “may be right from a strictly legal standpoint, but I don’t think it’s helpful in terms of the conclusion of the investigation.”
“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,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, the highest-ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, told CNN.
Sen. Lindsey Graham told reporters that he would “advise everybody from the president to the people operating the elevator don’t obstruct justice.”
“Politically it would be a disaster,” Graham said. “Legally, I don’t know.”
But Graham noted that drawing from history would be a significant factor in looking at the legality of such a bold action, despite Trump’s confidence in his ability to self-pardon.
“We do know that [former President Richard Nixon], one of the subsets of impeachment, was improper use of pardoning authority, that that was seemed to be an abuse of office,” Graham said. “What you’re talking about is abuse of office here. What role, I mean you’re the chief law enforcement officer of the land — that doesn’t make you above the law itself.”
Sen. Susan Collins of Maine echoed Graham and others that Trump pardoning himself would do irreparable damage to his presidency and the institution.
“It may well be an open question debated by constitutional scholars,” Collins said. “But there’s no doubt that if the president were ever to pardon himself, it would have catastrophic implications for him and for our country.”
Sen. Richard Shelby, who is just one of several senators still in office who voted for a guilty charge of Bill Clinton for obstruction of justice, said Trump “could probably” pardon himself, but could quickly turn against his favor.
“I’ve always said I didn’t think anybody was above or below the law,” Shelby said.