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Article II of the Constitution gives the president "Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment." Donald Trump believes he has the power to pardon himself for whatever federal crimes he may have committed as president.
The presidential self-pardon has never been judicially tested. No president has issued a self-pardon, although there was serious consideration of it in the cases of Presidents Richard Nixon (for the Watergate scandal), George H.W. Bush (for the Iran-contra scandal), and Bill Clinton (for the Whitewater scandal). Neither has any president been criminally prosecuted.
In today's Washington Post, I argue the Constitution does not give him the power to pardon himself. Although he has claimed such a power, and soon may purport to exercise it, the constitutional basis for it would be weak. Here's some of the argument:
The "power to grant … pardons" is a legal term of art that, in its historical context, should not include self-pardon. The notion grants the president something akin to a monarchical power, a governmental form against which the very founding of the United States was a rebellion.
The concept of the self-pardon also violates other foundational principles of the laws on which the country is based. Justice Chase wrote in Calder v. Bull (1798), "[Regarding] a law that makes a man a Judge in his own cause … [i]t is against all reason and justice, for a people to entrust a Legislature with SUCH powers; and, therefore, it cannot be presumed that they have done it." In Federalist No. 10, James Madison contended, "No man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause, because his interest would certainly bias his judgment, and, not improbably, corrupt his integrity." On this basis, the Office of Legal Counsel concluded in 1974 that the president cannot pardon himself.
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