WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump declared Monday that the appointment of the special counsel in the Russia investigation is “totally UNCONSTITUTIONAL!”
But he insisted that “numerous legal scholars” have concluded that he has the absolute right to do so, a claim that vastly overstates the legal thinking on the issue.
In fact, many constitutional experts dispute Trump’s position on his pardon power, an issue for which there has been no definitive ruling.
Trump’s assertion that “numerous legal scholars” believe he could pardon himself ignores the one official opinion on the subject. In August of 1974, just days before former President Richard Nixon resigned, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, Mary C. Lawton, said in a memorandum that “it would seem” that Nixon could not pardon himself.
She wrote that such a pardon would appear to violate “the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case.” But she did not explain how that principle would limit the constitutional power of the president to pardon.
In the wake of Trump’s tweets, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told reporters that “if I were president of the United States and I had a lawyer that told me I could pardon myself, I think I would hire a new lawyer.”
The president’s assertions came in tweets just a day after Rudy Giuliani, one of his lawyers, told HuffPost that Trump is essentially immune from prosecution while in office, and could even have shot the former FBI director without risking indictment while he was president.
Giuliani also said over the weekend that the president “probably” has the power to pardon himself but said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that it would be “unthinkable” for him to do so.
Doing so, Giuliani said, would “lead to probably an immediate impeachment,” adding that he “has no need to do that. He didn’t do anything wrong.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.