top of page

Trump Pardoning Himself?

On June 4th, 2018, Trump tweeted: "I have the absolute right to PARDON myself, but why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong?"

It's like telling your partner: You will never know if I've been cheating on you... but it's okay because I haven't.

Not even Trump's horde of lawyers or Republican allies can deny that that tweet wasn't alarmingly ambiguous.

Nevertheless, the question remains: Can Trump actually pardon himself?

Article II Section 2 of the U.S Constitution states that “the President shall have the power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States.” This means that Trump, just like any other President, can grant pardons to people who have broken federal law.

Here is where it gets murky.

Due to the way the U.S judicial system works, there needs to be a precedent set for the courts to interpret the law and make a decision. In Trump's case, there is not a precedent - in his favor - for self-pardoning. Therefore, many legal experts believe that this act of Presidential self-pardoning will not follow through.

In fact, pointing back to President Richard Nixon's plea for self-pardoning, an opinion issued by the justice apartment stated that Nixon could not pardon himself "under the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case."

Agreeing with that statement, Brian Kalt, a law professor at Michigan State University reiterated, “You can’t grant something to yourself. You can’t pardon yourself.”

But the opposing side begs to differ.

Ethan Leib, a law professor at Fordham University, said it is possible for Trump to argue that a self-pardon is in the public interest as it can prevent a "divisive prosecution that could potentially upend democracy and trigger civil war.”

While it does sound outlandish, this argument can be grounded in the legal norm that presidents are supposed to act in the public interest rather than for personal gain, and by self-pardoning himself, Trump can evade civil unrest, thus helping the public.

In other words, he should pardon himself so his supporters won't do something brash like storm the U.S Capital.

But, the irony that Leib noted is that Trump "does not seem particularly public-spirited.” There is a minuscule chance that maybe - just maybe - Trump will grant himself clemency for his personal gain.

However, if that doesn't work, some legal experts speculate that Trump could leave the office before January 20th (the date the ex-president must leave the office), declare himself temporarily unfit for office under the Constitution’s 25th Amendment, and transfer his power to the vice president, Mike Pence, who could then grant Trump clemency. But the reasons why this won't happen are two-fold: It doesn't seem that President Trump and VP Pence are on the best of terms right now, and Trump's ego is too colossal to push away and step down as president.

Therefore, while it seems like there are dire ways Trump can be pardoned, it's highly unlikely that he will be able to.

But wait...

Why would Trump even say that he could "hypothetically" self-pardon himself? What crimes has he committed in order for him to "hypothetically" need clemency?

To Letitia James, the New York Attorney General and Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus Vance, Trump's need for clemency is a reality. According to them, Trump can potentially be charged with obstruction of justice, bribery, campaigning finance violations, tax fraud, inflating asset values, plus several personal lawsuits.

The minute Trump steps out of office, this legal tsunami will envelop him, which not even a pardon can save. The charges these New York lawyers have on Trump are state crimes and the presidential pardon is only for federal crimes.

Ultimately, whether Trump can pardon himself or be pardoned, he will do whatever he needs to save face, pushing the knife deeper into American democracy and presidential integrity.

Works Cited:


bottom of page