WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — The Constitution gives a president — even one who’s been impeached — almost unlimited power to pardon people. But whether that includes a pardon for themself is the subject of greater interest now in the waning days of the Trump administration.
Speculation about a self-pardon by Donald Trump has increased in light of the legal jeopardy he may be in after he leaves office. He’s reportedly discussed it, but can he do it?
“The pardon power is very broad. And there are arguments on both sides of this,” said Michigan State University law professor Brian Kalt. “I personally agree with the side that says that he can’t. There are reasonable arguments on the other side that say that he can. And there’s never been a case.”
A Watergate-era justice department memo argued “no one may be a judge in his own case. The president cannot pardon himself.”
However, a pardon would only apply to federal cases. Were Trump to pardon himself the president could still be pursued for possible state crimes.
Kalt believes if these were to take place, it would wind up in the Supreme Court.
“I think it would. And there are a couple of dangers that he faces by even trying to pardon himself,” said Kalt. “One is they could add that as another article of impeachment, because it’s a pretty outrageous abuse of the power to pardon yourself. The second is, prosecutors may or may not — federal prosecutors — might have not wanted to go after him that aggressively and let the state prosecutors in New York do it. But if he pardons himself, they’re not going to want to leave that hanging out there.
Another issue involves so-called preemptive pardons — like the one granted to Richard Nixon by his successor Gerald Ford back in 1974. Nixon was never charged or convicted but accepted the pardon all the same.
“As long as the pardon is for something that person has already done. It doesn’t matter if they’ve been charged yet. It doesn’t matter if they’ve been convicted yet,” said Kalt.
The president could also try to blanket-pardon associates, such as the rioters at the Capitol, or members of his own family.
But Kalt says the House could interpret such moves as an abuse of power worthy of yet another article of impeachment.
It remains unknown if the president is seriously contemplating a pardon for himself. No president has ever done it. President Trump will lose pardon power when he leaves office next week.