Part I: Could President Trump Pardon Himself?
President Trump has brought up the possibility of a pardon before. “I have the absolute right to PARDON myself, but why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong?” he wrote in June 2018.
As highlighted in our first post of this series, President Trump is right: he could pardon himself. However, if he became the first president in history to do that, what would ensue?
No More President Trump?
Because impeachment is unaffected by presidential pardons, even if President Trump pardoned himself, he could still be impeached. However, impeachment takes time, and the removal of a president from office is complex.
The only exceptions outlined by our founding document are that 1) offenses must be against the U.S. as a whole and thus does not hold sway on state cases, and that 2) impeachment remains unaffected.
Although some may think this seems like a strange power to include, Alexander Hamilton explained in writing that he believed that this power was crucial. His prose is antiquated and a bit dense, but if you’d like to take a look, you can read his statement on the subject here. Essentially, Hamilton believed that the president could determine instances where the law had assigned too cruel a punishment for a crime (for example, a death sentence for theft) and right the wrong without dealing with bureaucratic gridlock. By this thought process, the presidential pardon was included in the constitution to swiftly fix injustices.
How Do Presidential Pardons Work?
Anyone who has committed a federal crime and wishes to be pardoned can submit a petition to the justice department (naturally, this now occurs via email). If the president wishes to, they can then pardon the person via a signed document. In the case of a president pardoning themselves, however, no petition is needed. The process is very simple: the president simply needs to have a document drawn up for signature.
Could President Trump pardon himself for federal crimes? Absolutely. But can he stop himself from being impeached or charged with state crimes? No. Our next article in this series will explore what a Trump pardon may look like.
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