With Donald Trump looking into his own powers to pardon wrongdoing, we’re wondering if he can pardon himself to avoid impeachment.
The Presidential pardon has a lurid history. Front and center in the cavalcade of insider handjobs is Gerald Fold’s pardon of Tricky Dick after Watergate. It remains the Lourdes of the U.S. legal system. All sins absolved, Nixon walked free. The actual machinations of the pardon, as illustrated by lawyer and noted Watergate expert James Robenalt, “is considered one of the least limited powers of the executive;” in Millennial terms, consider the pardon the expanse of the land that was promised to Simba in the Lion King.
Typically, the 45th President has offered something new in this regard. The reality (television) savvy President has twisted the law upon itself and birthed something ugly and worthy of our fear. The selfie-pardon. The question swirling around publications is if Trump has the power to do it. The answer is that no one knows for sure, primarily because no one has attempted it. But it is certainly not illegal. Even Richard Nixon, steeled by bourbon and hubris didn’t dare attempt it and he was, in his mind, doing right by the country, famously stating to David Frost that he was above the law. It’s also worth mentioning the other near miss swirled around Bill Clinton’s LBD pickle, where Slick Willy pardoned 140 people, but not himself. They, for their crimes, fell nobly. Somehow, I don’t think Donald would exit in the same fashion. Something tells me that he’d burn every bridge on the way out, quitting his job in the way we’d all like to, by knocking over the water cooler.
The answer is that no one knows for sure, primarily because no one has attempted it. But it is certainly not illegal.
An important qualifier to make is that Article II, Section 2, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution gives the president the power to “grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.” So, Trump could not halt his own Impeachment if it were to kick off, but an even more important qualifier is that if Trump pardons someone who is the target of an investigation, that person has immunity from persecution. Now, that won’t shut down an investigation outright, but pending on who that individual is, it could seriously hamper the investigation at large.
Snap back to reality and what is needed to kick this whole thing off is a crime. While the President has to wait for a crime to be committed, he can pardon as soon as the offense happens and does not need to wait for the formal legal process to be started.
Ostensibly, he is free to make a ruling on that person’s actions as he removes the penalty for it.
As for what stands in the way for reversing a questionable pardon, the options are miraculously skint. While Congress cannot touch a live pardon, the pardonee is not immune to the subpoena power of Congress. They are still required to appear and answer questions; moreover, if they lie in their submission, that crime is not covered by the previous pardon.
Now, the primary reason why this hasn’t been done before is the damage it causes to the President’s public image. To pardon is to admit wrongdoing. It signifies an irrefutable choice made by the pardoner. However, this power in the hands of someone who shrugs off criticism as fiction and who owns a historically low approval rating, combined with the fact that his party controls the majority needed to pass the Impeachment, the wind has dropped if Donald wants to take the shot.
The feeling of nothing to lose, combined with going somewhere everyone else wasn’t man enough to go, might be too good to resist.
Simply put: Yes, he can, but is he crazy enough to do it?