In this May 17, 2018 photo, President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington.
Photo: AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Photo: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Can Trump pardon himself?

President Donald Trump said Monday that he has “the absolute right to PARDON” himself after his attorney Rudy Giuliani suggested he had the authority to do as much in interviews Sunday.

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“As has been stated by numerous legal scholars, I have the absolute right to PARDON myself, but why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong?” Trump wrote in a tweet Monday morning. 

One day earlier, Giuliani told ABC’s “This Week” that Trump “probably does” have the power to pardon himself.

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The comments raised a question: Does Trump actually have the power to pardon himself? Several legal experts have weighed in on this question in recent months, and it turns out that the answer depends on who you ask.

What does the White House say?

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday that the Constitution “very clearly lays out the law” in regard to presidential pardons.

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What does the Constitution say?

According to Article II, Section 2, of the U.S. Constitution, “The President … shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.”

So does that mean that he can pardon himself if he faces charges connected to the Russia probe?

Some legal experts think so, while others aren’t so sure.

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John Yoo, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and a previous legal adviser to President George W. Bush’s administration, wrote in an opinion piece last year for The New York Times that a read of the Constitution shows “President Trump can clearly pardon anyone -- even himself -- subject to the Mueller investigation."

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Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, wrote in an opinion piece for USA Today that “as a textual matter, there is nothing to prevent Trump from adding his own name to the list of pardoned individuals.”

So who argues that the president can’t pardon himself?

Several legal experts say that the Constitution implicitly blocks the president from pardoning himself.

Brain Kalt, a Michigan State University law professor who has studied presidential self-pardons for years, wrote last year in an article for Foreign Policy Magazine that the word “pardon” is key to the issue.

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“The word ‘pardon’ means something inherently bilateral, something that a sovereign bestows upon a subject,” he wrote. “While there is admittedly no explicit limitation on self-pardons, there is no need for one, because a self-pardon is by definition not a ‘pardon.’”

Further, he pointed to the “venerable maxim that no one may be the judge in his own case.”

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“Like a judge who would have to submit to the authority of another judge if he were being prosecuted, a president must seek a pardon from his successor,” he wrote.

The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel reached that conclusion in 1974, days before President Richard Nixon resigned amid the Watergate scandal.

“Under the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case, the President cannot pardon himself,” then-acting Assistant Attorney General Mary Lawton wrote.

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