One of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s top lieutenants in the investigation into Russian election interference said he expects President Donald Trump to pardon himself before leaving office, a maneuver that would mark the first time the pardon power were used in such a novel fashion.
Appearing on MSNBC’s Deadline White House Friday evening, former federal prosecutor Andrew Weissmann told host Haley Jackson that he expected the president to issue a self-pardon because of the likelihood that Trump will face criminal charges on his way out of Washington.
“I think the president, if he’s not re-elected, is going to be very busy,” Weissmann said, referring to several ongoing investigations into Trump and his businesses.
Weissman specified that there were “three buckets” of problems Trump could be facing. First, on the federal level, there’s the issue of whether the next U.S. attorney general would want to pursue obstruction of justice charges stemming from the president’s attempts to shut down the Mueller investigation.
“I think we may see the president do so something we’ve never seen any president do, which is: try to self-pardon,” Weissman said, adding, “But that would at least delay any sort of federal decision.”
But because presidential pardons only affect federal charges, that may not go a long way in keeping Trump out of trouble in a second arena.
“At the state level, you have a criminal investigation – the Manhattan [District Attorney’s] Office – that looks to be a classic follow-the-money investigation that reminds me very much of what we did with Paul Manafort,” Weissmann said. “They’re clearly going after just the right thing, which is the internal accounting documents, and that’s a criminal investigation.”
A third investigation, this one civil as opposed to criminal, is also being conducted by New York state Attorney General Letitia James’s office over a possibly unlawful $21 million tax break Trump received by allegedly inflating the value of his 150 acre luxury estate known as Seven Springs. Weissmann also emphasized that while James’s investigation is based on a civil claim, it can quickly turn into a criminal probe depending on what comes to light.
While Trump has previously claimed that he has the “absolute right” to pardon himself, legal scholars and the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) do not agree.
“A president cannot pardon out of an impeachment,” Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law professor at George Washington University Law School told the Washington Post back in 2018. Turley added that if Trump tried to self-pardon, Congress could turn around and “use his pardon as an abuse of his office.”
Additionally, a 1974 OLC opinion stated that “under the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case, the President cannot pardon himself.”
[image via MSNBC/YouTube screengrab]
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