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Former Ethics Chiefs: Trump Can't Pardon Himself

| by Robert Fowler
President Donald TrumpPresident Donald Trump

Following reports that President Donald Trump is allegedly exploring his pardoning powers, former White House ethics lawyers have asserted that he cannot constitutionally pardon himself of any potential crimes. Internal White House deliberations over pardons reportedly began after it was disclosed that special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russia was investigating the president's business history.

On July 21, former White House ethics lawyers Norm Eisen of the Obama administration and Richard Painter of the Bush administration published an open letter that offered their view on whether a president could pardon himself. They were joined by Professor Laurence H. Tribe of Harvard Law School.

"The Constitution specifically bars the president from using the pardon power to prevent his own impeachment and removal," they wrote in the Washington Post. "It adds that any official removed through impeachment remains fully subject to criminal prosecution. That provision would make no sense if the president could pardon himself."

The ethics experts said that when presidents issue pardons, they are "acting as a kind of super-judge and making a decision about someone else’s conduct, the justice of someone else’s sentence or whether it is in the national interest to prosecute someone else."

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"He is not making a decision about himself," Eisen, Painter and Tribe concluded.

"We know of not a single instance of a self-pardon having been recognized as legitimate," the experts added.

On July 20, it was disclosed that Mueller's investigative team was examining Trump's previous business transactions with Russian nationals. Among them was the president's 2013 Miss Universe pageant held in Moscow, Bloomberg reports.

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Mueller is leading a probe into whether members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russian government officials to influence the 2016 presidential race.

On July 21, it was reported that Trump asked his advisers about the scope of his pardoning powers. The president allegedly asked if he could pardon himself and his family members. One anonymous White House adviser asserted that these discussions were just a precaution.

"This is not in the context of 'I can't wait to pardon myself,'" the adviser said.

Trump attorney John Dowd dismissed reports that the conversations ever took place and stated that Trump would not meddle in the Mueller probe.

"The president's lawyers are cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller on behalf of the president," Dowd said.

Meanwhile, law professor Brian C. Kalt of Michigan State University asserted that whether or not the president himself could pardon himself of a crime was an open question.

"It really is uncharted territory, and that makes it interesting to discuss but hard to predict," Kalt told The Guardian. "Anyone who's certain is wrong."

On July 22, Trump took to social media to blast reports about his alleged discussions about pardons.

"While all agree the U.S. President has the complete power to pardon, why think of that when only crime so far is LEAKS against us," Trump tweeted out. "FAKE NEWS."

Sources: Bloomberg, The Guardian, Washington Post (2) / Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore/FlickrBluszczokrzew/Wikimedia Commons, Michael Vadon/Flickr

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