WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump asserted Monday that he has the “absolute right” to pardon himself, but maintained he has done nothing wrong to require making such a move as he and his legal team step up their attacks on the sweeping investigation into Russian election interference.
“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 tweeted Monday morning.
The president’s tweet came a day after his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, making the rounds of the Sunday talk shows, insisted Trump had the constitutional power to self-pardon, but would likely not make such an “unthinkable” move.
“I think the political ramifications of that would be tough. Pardoning other people is one thing. Pardoning yourself is another,” Giuliani told ABC’s “This Week.”
Debate over the president’s pardon powers resurfaced over the weekend following the publication of a confidential memo sent by Trump’s personal legal team to Mueller that outlined the team’s argument that the president “could, if he wished, terminate the inquiry, or even exercise his power to pardon if he so desired.”
In the 20-page memo, obtained by The New York Times and published Saturday, Trump’s lawyers attempt to make the case that the president is not required to testify before the special counsel in part because “having him testify demeans the office of the president before the world.”
Constitutional scholars have been split on whether the president has the right to absolute self-pardon powers. Some have pointed to an August 1974 opinion rendered by the Department of Justice, four days before Richard Nixon resigned from office, which states, “Under the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case, the President cannot pardon himself.”
In an Op-Ed published in The Washington Post last July, Laurence H. Tribe, a professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School, Richard Painter, the former chief White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, and Norman Eisen, the former chief White House ethics lawyer for President Barack Obama, said the DOJ’s decades-old opinion supports the idea that the Constitution does not give the president the unlimited power to self-pardon.
“The Justice Department was right that guidance could be found in the enduring principles that no one can be both the judge and the defendant in the same matter, and that no one is above the law,” the trio wrote.
Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law professor at The George Washington University, said that while executing a self-pardon would be an “ignoble and self-defeating act,” nothing in the Constitution explicitly bars the president from pardoning himself.
“This is a power left to presidents without limitation beyond barring its use to effectively block an impeachment,” Turley wrote on his blog on Monday.
The president, whose tweets have increasingly questioned the legitimacy of the Mueller probe, went on Monday to call Mueller’s appointment “totally UNCONSTITUTIONAL!”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders did not respond when asked at Monday’s press briefing what was the basis for Trump’s argument that Mueller’s appointment was illegal. “The president knows that the special counsel isn’t needed because, once again, he hasn’t done anything wrong,” Sanders said.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, speaking on the Senate floor, said Trump “went 0-2 on the Constitution this morning.
“No president has the power to pardon himself or herself. If they did, the presidency would function outside the law,” Schumer said.