The president has legitimate pardon power, but can he be impeached or charged for using it to protect himself from prosecutions? Can this ability result in obstruction of justice? The question popped up Sunday because of a recent report that Trump lawyer John Dowd suggested pardons for fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
“If the president uses a pardon power for a corrupt purpose, he’s exposed to criminal liability for that,” said Bob Bauer, former White House Counsel for President Barack Obama, on Meet the Press this Sunday. “If his lawyer, with his authority, on his behalf offered a pardon as a means of tainting or corrupting a criminal proceeding, then I don’t see any basis for saying the president does not have to answer for that in the criminal justice system.”
Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin in Moscow’s 2016 election interference. Flynn pleaded guilty last year to lying to the FBI about his communication with the Russian ambassador, and Manafort is fighting unrelated charges to his work with the Ukrainian government. Trump has called the probe a “witch hunt” by Democrats. Meet the Press host Chuck Todd asked Bauer why shouldn’t the president offer pardons if he believed the investigation was out of bounds. It “threatens the legality” of a pardon if the president offered it to protect himself from prosecution, Bauer said. “It brings that into question.”
Harvard law professor Alan Dershowtiz wasn’t having it, though. The liberal law professor, who said he voted for Hillary Clinton in the presidential election, has consistently said that collusion with Russia, if true, wouldn’t be a crime under existing statutes, though it would politically awful. On Sunday, he told Bauer and Todd that other presidents like George H.W. Bush and Thomas Jefferson offered pardons under similarly sticky circumstances. Presidents can use pardons to stop investigations. The granting of the pardon wouldn’t be the crime, but something linked to it, like taking a bribe for it, would be illegal.
“I do not believe that engaging in a constitutionally authorized act can ever be the basis of a criminal charge,” he said. It also wouldn’t be the basis of a legal impeachment and removal, he also said.
[Screengrab via NBC]
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