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Trump claims 'complete power' to pardon

July 22, 2017

The US president has said he has the authority to pardon people in his administration, possibly including himself, but legal experts beg to differ. Meanwhile, Russian-meddling probes are closing in on Trump's finances.

President Donald Trump speaks during a lunch meeting with Senate Republicans
Image: Reuters/K. Lamarque

Donald Trump claimed in a Saturday early-morning Twitter tirade, seemingly in response to a Washington Post article, that he had "complete power to pardon."

The paper reported that Trump had sought legal advice on the question of self-pardons as Congress prepared to interview Donald Trump Jr as part of an investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, and as special counsel Robert Mueller reportedly closed in on the president’s tax returns.

Trump lawyer Jay Sekolow later denied the team were looking into the possibility of pardoning. "I don't know where this came from. There is nothing to pardon," he said.

Trump's son-in-law and White House adviser, Jared Kushner, and a former campaign chairman were also due to appear before Senate committees investigating Russian meddling next week. They were reportedly seeking to have the interview behind closed doors.

Following the money

Mueller is looking into Trump's business transactions as part of his ongoing probe into alleged ties between the Trump 2016 election campaign team and the Kremlin, according to Bloomberg and The New York Times.

For example, Deutsche Bank is reportedly being drawn into the probe. Bank executives said they expect the bank will soon receive subpoenas or other requests for information from Mueller, the Guardian reported on Thursday. DB has a long history of lending to Trump and family members and has also had strong links with Russia.  

Ivanka Trump walks with her husband, White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner
Senior White House advisor Jared Kushner is due to appear before a congressional hearing on Russian election meddlingImage: Getty Images/M. Wilson

Mueller is also investigating purchases by Russian buyers of Trump properties, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, a SoHo (New York) development involving Russian associates and Trump's 2008 sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch, Bloomberg reported.

"Those transactions are in my view well beyond the mandate of the special counsel," Trump's lawyer John Dowd said in a statement as reported by Bloomberg.

Trump said on Wednesday that Mueller would be "crossing a red line" if he expanded his investigation to look at Trump family finances beyond ties to Russia.

Limited authority to pardon

Scholars have questioned the scope of the president's legal authority in issuing pardons, particularly to himself.

Trump tweeted that "all agree" on the matter, although legal experts say it is unclear if the president can self-pardon, given the constitution does not explicitly deal with the issue, and there is no direct precedent as no president has ever attempted to do so.

Brian C Kalt, a law professor at Michigan State University, told The Guardian that former President Richard Nixon had decided not to attempt a self-pardon in 1974, leaving the task of pardoning him to his successor, Gerald Ford.

"It really is uncharted territory, and that makes it interesting to discuss but hard to predict," Kalt said. "Anyone who’s certain is wrong."

The Washington Post reported on Saturday that the Constitution barred the president from using the pardon power to prevent his own impeachment and removal.

Citing several constitutional lawyers, it said: "Any official removed through impeachment remains fully subject to criminal prosecution and that provision would make no sense if the president could pardon himself."

The presidential power to pardon - according to the constitution - applies only to federal crimes, so individual states could in theory keep up the prosecution of a defendant even after a presidential pardon, and any ruling on the matter would have to be appealed to the supreme court.

Sessions in limbo

Trump also complained about another Washington Post report that the Russian ambassador to the US said he had discussed election-related issues with question Attorney General Jeff Sessions when the men met during the 2016 presidential race.

Trump attacked Sessions in an interview with the New York Times last week, making the latter's position untenable in the longer-term, reports suggest.

jbh/tj (Reuters, AP)