Donald Trump set off another wave of excitement after news leaked this week that he is exploring with his lawyers how he could potentially use the presidential pardon to undermine Robert Mueller’s investigation.
The most explosive and unusual idea floated would be that Trump could potentially pardon himself along with others caught up in the investigation. No one, not even Richard Nixon, has seriously considered this option before. Experts disagree on the legal standing Trump would have to pardon himself while most concede it is a gray area that the Constitution does NOT specifically prohibit.
Most experts agree, however, that Trump pardoning himself could result in the following consequences:
- If neither Trump nor any of his inner circle have committed any crimes, the report filed by the special counsel will vindicate the president. A pardon is mostly employed after a crime has been fully prosecuted and someone has been found guilty. A preemptive pardon could essentially be seen as an admission of guilt
- By pardoning himself, Trump and his legal team open themselves to the “charge that they are considering a pardon as an act of obstruction,” argues Bob Bauer, a professor of law at New York University.
- While Trump has not yet crossed the line (if it exists) when the members of his party will finally refuse to back him, this might be it. Many lawmakers are lawyers themselves with a profound respect for the law and the Constitution. If Trump were to pardon himself there might be enough Republican lawmakers who reach their limit and begin impeachment proceedings. “As the Supreme Court noted long ago,” writes University of Michigan Law School professor Richard Primus, “a pardon suggests the existence of illegal behavior—and a self-pardon itself would represent such flagrant disrespect for rule-of-law values that if anything could push Congress toward impeaching and removing the president, this might.
President Trump has not demonstrated a keen ability to anticipate consequences of his actions (i.e. firing FBI Director James Comey) so it remains to be seen if he can anticipate the potential constitutional crises that a self-pardon could spawn.