The Trump pardon story exemplifies the frustrations of President Trump’s first six months in office. It began with a story published Thursday evening by the Washington Post that said Trump has been talking with his advisers about his power to grant pardons:
Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the probe, according to one of those people. A second person said Trump’s lawyers have been discussing the president’s pardoning powers among themselves.
One adviser said the president has simply expressed a curiosity in understanding the reach of his pardoning authority, as well as the limits of Mueller’s investigation.
As usual, the Post’s story was based entirely on anonymous sources: “people familiar with the effort,” “one of those people,” “[a] second person,” “a close adviser.” Trump’s presidency has been bedeviled by leaks on almost a daily basis, and not only from Obama holdovers in the intelligence agencies. These leaks apparently came from the White House.
Still, the Post has little credibility when it comes to President Trump, and the only person quoted by name in the Post’s article (a quote that was added after the story appeared on Thursday evening), Trump lawyer John Dowd, described it as “not true” and “nonsense.”
Trump could have left well enough alone, but as so often happens, he didn’t. Yesterday morning he tweeted, apparently about the Post story:
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. FAKE NEWS
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 22, 2017
Of course, he had a point. There is no evidence, in my view, that Trump or anyone associated with him has committed a crime, whereas we know that numerous leakers and reporters have done so. I fervently hope that before long, criminal prosecutions of leakers, reporters and editors will begin, with employees of the Washington Post near the top of the list.
But the effect of Trump’s tweet was to put the issue of pardons front and center. He implicitly conceded that the Post’s story was right–or, in any event, that is how his tweet has reasonably been interpreted. Trump enabled the Democratic Party press (CNN was, as usual, an egregious offender) to yammer nonstop about Trump contemplating pardons for his son-in-law, his former campaign manager, and others, including himself. The casual observer no doubt assumes that the only reason why Trump would be interested in pardons is that he or others in his circle have committed crimes. And in the context of the Post article, Trump’s reference to his pardon power being “complete” can reasonably be interpreted to refer to pardoning himself.
This is the sort of self-inflicted wound of which Trump has suffered far too many. One wonders, how many times can a president shoot himself in the foot and still be successful? Over the next 3 1/2 years we are likely to find out.
If you are interested in the question whether a president can pardon himself, Ann Althouse’s answer is Yes.