Donald Trump Pardon
On Thursday night the Washington Post reported that Donald Trump has allegedly directed his lawyers to begin looking into the president’s pardon power. Trump wanted to know if he could pardon his close associates, his family, and even himself if necessary. Pardoning a president is a debated topic in the legal community, but a series of early morning Saturday tweets showed clearly Trump falls on the side of the debate that gives the president broad authority when it comes to pardons. A position that puts the president at odds with numerous legal scholars.


Trump tweeted that “all agree the president has complete power to pardon” which very well might be what all of the people around him agree on, but it’s not nearly that cut and dry within the broader legal community. Mostly because nobody actually knows what happens if a president tries to pardon himself.


Law professor Brian Kalt told CNN if Trump tries to pardon himself he could quickly be in uncharted waters. Kalt stated, “we don’t know, no president has ever tried, it hasn’t gone to court, it hasn’t been decided, but he can certainly try.”


Nixon considered pardoning himself during the Watergate Scandal and Kalt discussed Nixon’s thought process with CNN as well. “Asked his lawyer to look into his options. His personal lawyer said he could pardon himself if he wanted. Nixon was concerned with his legacy and was willing to put his fate in the hands of his successor, the argument that a president can’t pardon himself is that he must do that, but there are arguments on both sides.”


Despite what Trump might think, not “everyone” agrees that the president has unlimited power to pardon. There are two separate lines of thinking on pardons and it’s not at all clear where the decision would fall if those arguments were actually presented in the courts. Kalt discussed both options with CNN and showed the legal divide Trump pardoning himself could create.


Kalt told CNN about the legal issue surrounding a self pardon, “the constitution doesn’t say specifically that he can’t,” Kalt said. He went on, “the argument that he cannot pardon himself is a little more complicated. Part of it is, that the meaning of the word pardon is inherently something that you give someone else. It comes from the same Latin root as the word donate, you wouldn’t ever say you donated something to yourself. It doesn’t make sense. Similarly if you pardon yourself that’s not a pardon.”


So the word pardon itself could become disputed in court should Trump make the move and then it would depend on the lawyers and judges deciding the case and their particular interpretation of the word pardon. It’s not just the word pardon that is disputed, there is another issue with a potential self pardon that is much deeper and based on legal principles, not contested definitions of the word pardon.


“The other argument is that you can’t be the judge of your own case. Just like a judge going to trial would be in front of another judge, a president who wants a pardon would have to wait until someone else is president,” Kalt said.
These two arguments surrounding pardons may never be formally decided in the courts, but at least in theory there is not a clear cut decision that will be made. It’s a contested legal issue and if that contest comes to fruition, it’ll be because a paranoid sitting president preemptively pardoned himself and forced the court to set a new precedent.


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