With Sessions Under Renewed Fire, Trump Claims 'Complete Power to Pardon'

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions holds a news conference to announce an 'international cybercrime enforcement action' at the Department of Justice July 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. President Donald Trump said Wednesday in an interview with the New York Times that he never would have appointed Sessions had he known Sessions would recuse himself from overseeing the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. 'Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else,' Trump said. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

With Sessions Under Renewed Fire, Trump Claims 'Complete Power to Pardon'

Any attempt by Trump to pardon his way out of  stewing controversy, says one critic, would create a "constitutional crisis that would make Watergate look like a minor event"

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.

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:

Wider reaction to the reporting, however, was focused on the serious implications for Sessions if the contents of the reporting are verified.

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."

They write:

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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