In the wake of the attack on the U.S. Capitol, many are speculating on social media about whether President Donald Trump will do something no other U.S. president has ever done -- pardon himself for any possible federal crime he could be charged with.
While talk on social media is only speculation, CNN reported that “multiple sources,” told them last week that former Attorney General William Barr and White House counsel Pat Cipollone have had conversations with Trump about not trying to pardon himself before his term ends on Wednesday at noon.
The Constitution is clear that a president may issue pardons for federal crimes but is not so clear on whether a president can pardon himself.
Will Trump pardon himself? Here is what we know about the power of a president to pardon a crime.
What is the pardon power?
The Constitution gives the president the power “to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.”
That power extends to federal crimes only.
When the president bestows a pardon, he or she is erasing the legal consequences of the crime.
Can a president pardon someone before they are charged with a crime?
Yes, a president may pardon someone before they are charged with a crime.
The Supreme Court ruled in 1866 that the president’s power to pardon someone “extends to every offense known to the law, and may be exercised at any time after its commission, either before legal proceedings are taken or during their pendency, or after conviction and judgment.”
President Gerald Ford pardoned former President Richard Nixon in 1974 for all federal crimes he “committed or may have committed” while he was president.
Can Trump pardon family members?
Yes, the president could pardon family members in advance of any of them being charged with a federal crime.
Could Trump pardon himself?
The Constitution is unclear on whether a president can pardon himself.
The one limitation on pardons that is spelled out in the Constitution is that a pardon cannot be used to stop Congress from impeaching someone.
There is nothing in the wording of the Constitution that explicitly says the president cannot pardon himself.
However, some have argued that a president cannot pardon himself because it is, in short, a conflict of interest.
Mary C. Lawton, who was the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel in August 1974, issued a legal opinion on whether Nixon could pardon himself for crimes that led to the Watergate scandal.
Lawton wrote that “it would seem” that Nixon could not pardon himself “under the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case.”
What would happen if Trump tried to pardon himself?
Again, it’s not clear. If Trump did pardon himself and then end up being indicted for a federal crime, it is likely the U.S. Supreme Court would hear the case and issue a ruling.
“I think it’s a very close question whether it would ultimately be allowed to go forward, but I think there’s a chance a self-pardon might be struck down and be found to be the only limit on the pardon power,” Kristin Hucek, a former lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney, told Politico.
Could Trump have Vice President Pence pardon him?
Yes, there is a scenario where Vice President Mike Pence could pardon Trump.
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