The Short Version: Presidential Pardons
The point of it all is to break down the headlines, determine why an issue is important, and reveal the best arguments on each side of the story. Last week Cleo looked at the subject of net neutrality and opened a debate about whether or not the web should be treated as a public utility. This week she looks at the headlines, presidential pardons, and asks whether or not Trump can legally pardon himself.
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President Trump is investigating his own power to pardon.
According to a report published this week by the Washington Post, the president “has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself” in connection to the ongoing investigation into his campaign’s relationship with Russia.
On Saturday morning, President Trump tweeted claiming “all agree the U.S. President has the complete power to pardon.”
Why is it important?
As a country, we’ve been debating the presidential pardon since before the Constitution was ratified.
A pardon voids all legal consequences of a crime. The power is drawn from Article II Section 2 of the Constitution, which gives the president the “power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.” Derived from the British monarchy, pardons were hotly contested during the drafting of the Constitution (Alexander Hamilton, for example, defended it in the Federalist Papers).
The pardon power only applies to federal law. It’s a common misconception, but the president can’t pardon anyone for any offense under state law—which accounts for the vast majority of crimes and prison sentences.
President Trump can pardon family members, current aides and former White House officials like Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Michael Flynn. In fact, according to the Supreme Court decision in Ex parte Garland, the president can pardon them before they have been convicted or even charged.
But there are several important side effects of a presidential pardon:
- Once a person is pardoned, they can’t invoke the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in order not to testify in further investigations. Michael Flynn, for example, has taken the Fifth.
- Pardons themselves can be crimes, if they violate other federal laws. For example, Attorney General Jeff Sessions supported an bribery investigationinto President Clinton’s pardon of financier Marc Reich. If President Trump pardons family members or aides in order to stop the larger investigation, it may be obstruction of justice—a felony.
And when it comes pardoning himself, President Trump’s power is anything but “complete.”
Can President Trump pardon himself?
Why “The Short Version” on TIO:
Over nine years ago, Telluride Inside…and Out began as a lifestyle webzine. Today, in the full knowledge that Telluride is a window on the world, we continue to bring the “zazz” (short for “pizzazz) of the region to a local, national, and global audience by covering everything from Telluride’s robust cultural economy – major events and festivals – to health and fitness and outdoor adventure. When Telluride travels, we write about places to go, people to meet too. (That’s part of the “Out” part of our handle, the other, obviously, Outdoors.)
And now, this weekly column, “The Short Version,” which offers simple summaries of issues of national and global importance.
“The Short Version” is written by Cleo Constantine Abram, the daughter of Telluride locals Eleni Constantine and Jonathan Abram (and therefore an honorary local and regular visitor) and a digital strategist.
Why “The Short Version”? Because, though we live in Shangri-La, our bubble is not impermeable and the rest of the world is only a click away. Because there is no inconsequential action; only consequential inaction. And because information is power in a moment so many of us are feeling powerless.
More about Cleo Constantine Abram:
Cleo grew up in Washington D.C., lives in New York City, and loves to visit her parents in Telluride. She authors “The Short Version,” a newsletter that explains each week’s most important issue and both sides of the debate around it.
Cleo is a digital strategist now working at Vox, a general interest news site for the 21st century. Its mission is simple: Explain the news. Politics, public policy, world affairs, pop culture, science, business, and more.
Cleo’s work focuses on ways to share, educate, and inform using online platforms. While in college at Columbia University, she guided the school’s entrance into online education through her role as the youngest elected representative to the Columbia Senate, which makes university-wide policy.
She continued her work on online education at TED-Ed, the educational branch of the nonprofit, building new programs and online tools to support high school teachers worldwide.
Continuing her work with TED, Cleo founded and led an early TEDx conference, the organization’s community-specific series.
Recently, Cleo returned to school, studying video storytelling at Columbia Journalism School.
Most importantly, Cleo loves to ski.
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