Politics

Trump Claims ‘Absolute Right’ to Pardon Himself

Democratic Rep. Beyer: President believes he is ‘above the law. He isn’t’

President Donald Trump contends he has the legal power to pardon himself. (Photo by Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

President Donald Trump, echoing his legal team, on Monday asserted that his office gives him the “absolute right” to pardon himself.

The president made the claim, which is a matter of dispute among former Justice Department officials and legal experts, in a tweet that also stated he ultimately will not have to because he is innocent of any crimes.

Trump contends that “numerous legal scholars” have concluded the sitting chief executive possesses the “absolute right to PARDON myself.” But he added this: “Why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong?”

But Rep. Donald S. Beyer Jr. fired back on Monday morning, tweeting that Trump is acting like a king and lacks the power he professes.

“Donald Trump just used the language of kings — ‘absolute right’ — to openly declare his belief that he is above the law,” the Virginia Democrat wrote. “He isn’t.”

The social media post came one day after one of his chief personal attorneys, Rudy Giuliani, told HuffPost that “in no case can he be subpoenaed or indicted. … I don’t know how you can indict while he’s in office. No matter what it is.”

Giuliani also used the idea of Trump murdering one of his top political foes, fired former FBI Director James B. Comey, to argue the powers of the presidency under the U.S. Constitution are broad. “If he shot James Comey, he’d be impeached the next day,” the former New York mayor and U.S. attorney said Sunday. “Impeach him, and then you can do whatever you want to do to him.”

The Trump legal team made similar arguments in a 20-page letter sent to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III in January. At issue is whether Trump committed any crimes or impeachable offenses in the 2016 campaign with possible collusion with Russians, and then whether he obstructed justice after taking office by interfering with the Justice Department’s probe.

Giuliani’s point about impeachment — which would be conducted by the House, though it is up to the Senate to vote to remove a sitting president — was echoed in a Sunday blog post by David Kris, a former assistant attorney general for national security.

“The real question is, if he did something like that, would Congress or the American people react? Law enforcement and politics intersect here,” Kris wrote on the popular Lawfare blog.

The Trump tweet and Giuliani’s comments over the weekend are part of a broader public relations campaign to discredit Mueller’s team. The president was busy at that again on Monday morning, calling the probe a “never ending Witch Hunt,” contending it is being “led by 13 very Angry and Conflicted Democrats (& others),” and criticizing the special counsel’s team for continuing its work as November’s midterm elections near.

He also fired off another tweeting contending the special counsel probe is “UNCONSTITUTIONAL!”

But the presidential claim is misleading. That’s because Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing Mueller, is a Republican. So is Mueller. So is FBI Director Christopher Wray. Trump himself put Rosenstein and Wray in their posts. While some of the special counsel’s investigators are registered Democrats, not all are.

Laurence H. Tribe, a Harvard Law School professor; Richard Painter, chief White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush; and Norm Eisen, chief White House ethics lawyer for President Barack Obama, wrote a Washington Post op-ed saying a head of state pardoning himself and avoiding the consequences would be unprecedented.

“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.

“The Constitution specifically bars the president from using the pardon power to prevent his own impeachment and removal,” they said. “We know of not a single instance of a self-pardon having been recognized as legitimate. Even the pope does not pardon himself.”

Watch: 2 Trump Agenda Items to Watch on the Hill After Recess

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