As Mueller Probe Widens, Trump Team Exploring Presidential Pardon Powers
Advisers attempt to portray Trump as displaying normal curiosity about legal powers, while legal experts balk
According to a Washington Post report released Friday, President Donald Trump appears to be preparing for the worst as special counsel Robert Mueller investigates his alleged ties to Russia and those of members of his administration.
The president is reportedly angling to build a case against Mueller in which he'd accuse the special counsel of having conflicts of interest and warning against a probe into his and his family's financial ties, Trump has apparently been discussing the possibility of issuing pardons to anyone who might be targeted by the investigation—including himself. According to the Post, the president's lawyers have also been discussing pardoning powers.
No president has attempted to pardon himself, and the Post report notes that while the Constitution does not "specifically prohibit" such an action, "experts say that by definition a pardon is something you can only give to someone else."
"We would not allow a judge to preside over his or her own trial," reasons Brian C. Kalt, a constitutional law expert quoted in the article.
In The New Republic, Brian Beutler wrote about the potential aftermath should Trump achieve his goal of derailing Mueller's investigation, assuming House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and the rest of the Republican Party continue to support the president without publicly questioning his actions. "Should Trump fire Mueller, with the tacit assent of Republicans in Congress and the DOJ leadership, there will be little recourse," Beutler wrote. "And should Trump pardon himself and his inner circle, it is dispiritingly easy to imagine Republicans reprising their familiar refrain: The president's power to pardon is beyond question."
As it has been since the 2016 campaign, Trump's team appears determined to normalize the president's behavior. The Post writes:
One adviser said the president has simply expressed a curiosity in understanding the reach of his pardoning authority, as well as the limits of Mueller's investigation.
"This is not in the context of, 'I can't wait to pardon myself,' " a close adviser said.
Regardless of the tone of Trump's questions about pardons, former Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller noted Thursday that the president's behavior is deeply suspicious.
Not for nothing, discussing pardoning yourself and your family at the beginning of an investigation looks super guilty.— Matthew Miller (@matthewamiller) July 21, 2017