Can a President Pardon Himself?
Less than a year on the job and President Donald Trump is already inquiring about the rules and regulations regarding pardoning power. These questions come at a time when more information about the involvement of Russia in the presidential election is being released to the public and when there is a lot more uncertainty around the world regarding nuclear power, not to mention the war of words between Trump and the National Football League (NFL).
Trump’s timing regarding pardoning power doesn’t surprise the public at all. But it does bring up a good question: can a president pardon himself under the constitution? And who may overturn a presidential pardon?
Let’s first take a look at if Trump can pardon himself.
Presidential Pardon Rules
President Trump does have the ability to issue a pardon for offenses against the United States. The only condition is that the president cannot use the pardon power for impeachment, according to Article II, Section, Clause 1 of the constitution. (Source: “Executive Branch,” National Constitution Center, September 17, 1787.)
The power of pardon for the president is that he can reduce a prison sentence for an individual or even offer forgiveness for a crime. It must relate to events that have already occurred and cannot be used for any future ones. The president does not have the power to pardon individuals over state-level crimes; they must impact the United States as a whole. For instance, in the Russia-Trump saga, Trump could use his power to reduce any punishment to any aides or family members involved.
Does the President Have the Power to Pardon Himself?
The constitution does not directly give an answer as to whether or not the president can pardon himself, since the wording is very short and broad.
Legal professionals are split on this issue. One side argues that no one could be the judge and defendant in the same matter and that no one that is above law and could make such an important decision alone. The other side believes that there is no direct response to this question in the constitution, meaning a self-pardon is a possibility. This group also believes that if the president is considering such an action, then it is with just cause and changes need to be made for the good of the United States and its people.
Would Trump Pardoning Himself Be a Good Move?
If Trump decided to attempt to pardon himself, it would create more questions than answers.
For one, it could be the result of Trump hiding something and wanting to get out of the public eye as quickly as possible. A current example would be the recent news linking Russia and Trump during the latter’s presidential campaign. Much more information could be released and the longer Trump remains in power, the greater the possibility of the truth coming out.
Trump could also potentially negotiate a deal that closes the books on any wrongdoing he has done in exchange for stepping down. However, this would constitute a crime and just put him in more hot water. Or perhaps he gets away with it (if there’s anything to get away with) and the truth is never revealed.
Lastly, Trump pardoning himself could be seen as an abuse of power and impact the rules for future presidents. And if this were to happen now, less than one year into his presidency, it raises a lot of red flags. Also, since a pardon applies only to past events, Trump could still be charged for something down the road–that is, if he is hiding something.
The move could also do more harm than good to the financial markets, creating a lot of uncertainly via the sudden changes. Potential results include a weaker U.S. dollar, more volatility in the stock market, and large movements in commodity prices. Also, the resulting new president would mean the Federal Reserve might have to readjust its interest rates forecast, inflation rates, and target growth rates. This would trickle down to other areas of the economy, including manufacturing and cross-border trading.
What Does History Show?
No president in the history of the United States has stepped down using the power of pardon.
Who May Overturn a Presidential Pardon?
The president cannot pardon himself, but can be impeached by the House of Representatives and supreme court. A hearing would be held if Trump committed any high crimes and/or misdemeanors, leading to a vote; two-thirds voting in favor of impeachment moves the case to the supreme court. Here, again, two-thirds of the jury must vote for impeachment for Trump to be ousted from office.
What Will Happen If the President Pardons Himself?
Trump’s departure from the White House would mean that the president seat goes to the current Vice President, Mike Pence, with a new vice president in turn replacing him. The administration team could remain as-is, or Pence could make changes as he sees fit. Pence would only keep individuals on the current administration if he believes they best suited for the job.
A change in president would not impact the next election in 2020. But regardless of the outcome, Pence would not serve a full term as president.
Final Thoughts About Presidential Pardons
As said before, no president in the history of the United States has ever gone through the process of a presidential pardon. However, Trump could be the first one to find a way to pardon himself, since he is very unconventional.
Before Trump became president, he was running a global real estate company. Running that business has given Trump a lot of experience with negotiating and closing business deals. This could translate into him making a deal behind closed doors to leave the White House.