Jul 22, 2017
In the wake of new reporting indicating U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions may have provided "misleading" statements about his discussions with Russia's Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, President Donald Trump took to his Twitter account Saturday morning to assert his "complete power to pardon" even as he dismissed the latest revelations.
\u201cWhile all agree the U. S. President has the complete power to pardon, why think of that when only crime so far is LEAKS against us.FAKE NEWS\u201d— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump) 1500723334
On Friday evening, the Washington Postreported that U.S. intelligence agencies have communication intercepts of Kislyak in which the ambassador describes how he and Sessions had "substantive" discussions that went beyond what the Attorney General has indicated publicly.
According to the Post:
One U.S. official said that Sessions -- who testified that he has no recollection of an April encounter -- has provided "misleading" statements that are "contradicted by other evidence." A former official said that the intelligence indicates that Sessions and Kislyak had "substantive" discussions on matters including Trump's positions on Russia-related issues and prospects for U.S.-Russia relations in a Trump administration.
Sessions has said repeatedly that he never discussed campaign-related issues with Russian officials and that it was only in his capacity as a U.S. senator that he met with Kislyak.
"I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign," Sessions said in March when he announced that he would recuse himself from matters relating to the FBI probe of Russian interference in the election and any connections to the Trump campaign.
In response to the reporting, Trump argued the only thing people should take from it was the unauthorized "leaks" and statements from officials which informed it:
\u201cA new INTELLIGENCE LEAK from the Amazon Washington Post,this time against A.G. Jeff Sessions.These illegal leaks, like Comey's, must stop!\u201d— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump) 1500719581
Wider reaction to the reporting, however, was focused on the serious implications for Sessions if the contents of the reporting are verified.
\u201cLyin' Sessions appeared to lie about his meetings & conversations with Russian spy Kislyak. Fun fact: Cabinet officials can be impeached. https://t.co/m3ChOkZibI\u201d— Ted Lieu (@Ted Lieu) 1500681591
On the question of whether or not Trump has "complete power" to pardon, it is certainly not true that "all agree" with the president's claim. The issue of presidential pardons was raised Friday when it was reported the president's legal advisors were exploring his authority to issue them to members of his team, his family, or even himself.
In an op-ed for the Post published Saturday morning, Laurence Tribe, Richard Painter and Norman Eisen refute the possibility for a self-directed pardon in a piece titled, "No, Trump can't pardon himself. The Constitution tells us so."
President Trump thinks he can do a lot of things just because he is president. He says that the president can act as if he has no conflicts of interest. He says that he can fire the FBI director for any reason he wants (and he admitted to the most outrageous of reasons in interviews and in discussion with the Russian ambassador). In one sense, Trump is right -- he can do all of these things, although there will be legal repercussions if he does. Using official powers for corrupt purposes -- such as impeding or obstructing an investigation -- can constitute a crime.
But there is one thing we know that Trump cannot do -- without being a first in all of human history. He cannot pardon himself.
While it's true that Trump possesses very broad powers to issue pardons--including to his son Donald Trump Jr. or son-in-law Jared Kushner--for possible crimes committed, critics warn the political consequences of doing so could be enormous.
As Michael Beschloss, a presidential historian, explained on MSNBC this week, any attempt by Trump to try to pardon his way out of the stewing controversy would create a "constitutional crisis that would make Watergate look like a minor event." Watch:
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