President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter Monday that he has the “absolute right” as president of the United States to pardon himself.
Trump also criticized the U.S. Justice Department for deciding to appoint a special counsel to investigate possible wrongdoing in the 2016 elections.
The president wrote, “As has been stated by numerous legal scholars, I have the absolute right to PARDON myself, but why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong?”
He added, “The appointment of the Special Counsel is totally UNCONSTITUTIONAL! Despite that, we play the game because I, unlike the Democrats, have done nothing wrong!”
Trump’s comments came a day after his lawyer, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, said the president could pardon himself.
Giuliani’s comment is similar to a memo, published by The New York Times, from his lawyers to special counsel Robert Mueller. The letter claimed that Trump “could, if he wished, terminate the inquiry, or even exercise his power to pardon if he so desired.”
Last May, the Justice Department named Mueller, a former head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), as special counsel. He and his team are investigating whether Russia and Trump’s presidential election campaign worked together to influence the 2016 vote.
Mueller has since charged several people connected to the Trump campaign. Others admitted guilt in court to making false statements to the FBI. The special counsel also brought charges against 13 Russians and three Russian companies with plotting to interfere in the election.
The issue of presidential pardons has been raised in recent weeks. The U.S. Constitution says the president “shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.”
Since taking office, Trump has approved pardons for several people who are not connected to the Mueller investigation. The moves and his comments led to a question whether he can actually pardon himself.
Can a president pardon himself?
Brian Kalt is a legal expert with the Michigan State University College of Law. He wrote about this subject in the 1990s during congressional efforts to remove President Bill Clinton from office.
Kalt said James Wilson, a founding father of the U.S., indirectly raised the issue at the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.
Kalt wrote that, “When the question of potential presidential self-dealing through the pardon power had been raised… Wilson had argued, the President was not above the law. As such, the pardon power could not protect him as it had (England’s) King Charles II.
The exact question of self-pardoning was not directly settled by the convention’s delegates. However, Kalt noted that self-pardons either were not considered or thought to be unacceptable.
In the end, “presidents cannot pardon themselves,” he wrote.
Judge Richard Posner wrote in a 1999 book about the Clinton case that the question was left open by the founding fathers. “It has generally been inferred from the breadth of the constitutional language that the president can indeed pardon himself,” Posner argued.
Samuel Morison once worked for the Justice Department as a lawyer and specialized in pardons. Last May, he told The Washington Post that a self-pardon could theoretically be done by a president.
He said, “My opinion is that in theory that he could. But then he would be potentially subject to impeachment for doing that.” Morison added that there is nothing “in the Constitution itself that says he can’t do that.”
In 1974, President Richard Nixon reportedly asked for a legal opinion on self-pardon as he faced investigation. The president was accused of covering-up evidence of criminal activity.
Shortly before Nixon’s resignation from office, the Justice Department Office of Legal Council issued a memo on the subject. Acting Assistant Attorney General Mary Lawton wrote, “Under the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case, the President cannot pardon himself.”
In August 1974, Nixon resigned from the presidency. A month later, President Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon for any crimes he might have committed during the Watergate crisis. The former president was never charged or found guilty of federal crimes.
I’m Jonathan Evans.
Hai Do wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Information about the presidential self-pardon debate came from Scott Bomboy of the National Constitution Center. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
absolute - adj. complete and total
scholar - n. a person who has studied a subject for a long time
despite - preposition, used to say that something happens or is true
terminate - v. to end something
reprieve - n. an official order that delays punishment
impeachment - n. charge against a public official with a crime done while in office
infer - v. to reach a conclusion based on known facts
breadth - n. the wide scope or range of something
issue - v. to announce something in a public and official way
commit - v. to do something that is illegal or harmful