President Donald Trump has once again created controversy by tweeting something that set the media off. On July 22nd, 2017, he tweeted the following:
He is rumored to be questioning his advisers about self-pardoning.
What exactly is a presidential pardon?
A pardon is “a government decision to allow a person who has been convicted of a crime to be free and absolved of that conviction, as if he or she were never convicted.” Many countries around the world pardon their citizens when they believe that they paid their debt to society, when wrongly convicted, or when a “deal” is made and a pardon is granted as a reward for cooperating. This would mean that he might have the ability to protect himself against being prosecuted in the future if he were to do anything that would cause impeachment and a trial.
It’s also been rumored that President Trump wants to start pardoning White House staffers as they enter his administration. He is said to want to protect former White House officials such as Michael Flynn and Sean Spicer. While completely legal, doing this would upset a majority of Americans that feel like they don’t deserve to be pardoned.
In the United States of America, the only person who is allowed to pardon is the president. Article II, Section 2, Clause 1 of The Constitution states that presidents are given “power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.”
So, can Donald Trump have the power to pardon himself? It’s debatable.
As of July 27, 2017, President Donald Trump has created controversial policies in just 188 days of being in office. His idea to repeal Obamacare is criticized by many, along with his new law that bans transgender Americans from joining the military. These questionably unconstitutional acts are making many Americans question if President Trump is in the right mindset to be in office.
One of the first cases of a president wanting to pardon himself is during the Nixon Watergate Scandal of the early 1970’s. Nixon was rumored to be questioning his lawyers if the constitution would allow it– and they told him that it was doable; but, a lawyer in the Office of Legal Counsel advised against it and Nixon did not go through with his plan. Regardless, President Gerald Ford ended up pardoning Nixon when he took office. Because he did so, all the charges for the Watergate Scandal were dropped.
One reason that President Trump most likely won’t be able to self pardon is because many people see it as unethical. They argue that the United States was built on the ideal that each person gets a fair and legal trial through an unbiased jury. A president pardoning himself would mean that he decides his own fate, and no man in the United States is supposed to have that much power, not even the president himself. This CNN article sums up a quote from John Locke that reads,
“It is unreasonable for men to be judges in their own cases because self-love will bias men in favour of themselves and their friends. The result is confusion and disorder. If one man…is free to be the judge in his own case…everyone has to put up with whatever he does, whether he is led by reason, mistake or passion.”
Richard Painter and Norm Eisen were ethics advisers for George W. Bush and Barack Obama. They both claimed that the Constitution alludes that it would “make no sense if the president could pardon himself” and that “If a resident is impeached by the House and removed from office after trial in the Senate, he remains fully subject to criminal prosecution.” This, in shorter terms, means that they believe it is not constitutionally fair for self-pardoning to occur. Checks and balances also come into play in this type of situation. They were created so that no one in the government has too much power. If Trump pardoned himself, it would create a wreck in the system because he would have all the power in deciding his own fate.
On the other side of things, Jonathan Turley is a professor at George Washington University– and he believes that there isn’t anything in the constitution that says a president cannot pardon himself.
According to a quote that he gave in this Economist article,
“In a 1974 case, Mr Turley notes, the Supreme Court declared that “the pardoning power is an enumerated power of the constitution” whose “limitations, if any, must be found in the constitution itself”. Though the high court has never weighed in on whether presidents can pardon themselves, such a question “could easily go either way”, should Mr Trump opt to pay himself this unprecedented courtesy.”
According to Turley, there is another way that President Trump would “escape responsibility for crimes that he has committed.”
“ Under a process outlined in the 25th amendment, he could temporarily step aside as president after announcing that “he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office”. Mike Pence might then, as president, pardon him, before Mr Trump writes a note getting his old job back. This tack would, by all accounts, be legally sound.”
Many Americans believe that pardoning is thought to be uncommon, but it is the complete opposite. Almost every president has granted pardons. They fluctuate with what is going on in the country during their presidency. For example, more people are pardoned during presidencies that occur during wartime, and numbers tend to go lower when we’re at peace. Here is an estimated (not complete) list of presidents and how many people they have pardoned.
George Washington: 16
John Adams: 21
Thomas Jefferson: 119
James Madison: 196
James Monroe: 419
John Quincy Adams: 183
Andrew Jackson: 386
Martin Van Buren: 168
James K. Polk: 268
Franklin Pierce: 142
James Buchanan: 150
Abraham Lincoln: 343
Andrew Johnson: 648
Ulysses S. Grant: 1,332
Rutherford B. Hayes: 893
Chester A. Arthur: 337
Grover Cleveland: 1,107
Benjamin Harrison: 613
William McKinley: 918
Theodore Roosevelt: 981
William Howard Taft: 748
Woodrow Wilson: 2,480
Calvin Coolidge: 1,545
Herbert Hoover: 1,385
Franklin D. Roosevelt: 3,687
Harry Truman: 2,044
John F. Kennedy: 575
Richard Nixon: 926
Gerald Ford: 409
Jimmy Carter: 566
Ronald Reagan: 406
Bill Clinton: 459
Barack Obama: 1,715
(The most famous pardoning was when President Gerald Ford pardoned President Richard Nixon,post presidency, right before he was indicted in the Watergate Scandal.)
So, can President Donald Trump self-pardon? Although there will be fallback from the public, he can easily protect his advisers and people close. Waiting to see if he decides to grant himself immortality will be a guessing game. Weather or not the president has the power to self pardon is a subject that is waiting to be debunked.