President Donald Trump pardoning himself, a possibilty which he has dangled at arm’s length for most of his presidency, is a “no-go,” according to former White House Ethics Lawyer Richard Painter, who served as counsel to President George W. Bush.
MSNBC’s Maria Teresa Kumar asked Painter on Saturday if Trump could actually pull it off.
“No it’s not, and I explained that two years ago in an op-ed with Norman Eisen and Lawrence Tribe. Lawrence Tribe is one of the foremost constitutional law experts in the United States at Harvard Law School,” said Painter. “We looked at this. It is quite clear that President Trump cannot pardon himself.”
Painter, Eisen, and Tribe’s editoral was published in 2017 in The Washington Post.
“There is no such thing as a self-pardon,” Painter continued. “A pardon is an act of one person pardoning another person. The only way he can receive a pardon is to receive it from a President Joe Biden, or to resign and receive a pardon from Mike Pence if Mike Pence wants to serve the remainder of the term.”
Such was the case when President Richard Nixon resigned on August 8, 1974 to avoid being impeached for his role in the Watergate scandal. Vice President Gerald Ford assumed the office of the presidency and pardoned Nixon a month later. Ford believed that a pardon was the only way to heal the country from the trauma of Watergate:
It is believed that a trial of Richard Nixon, if it became necessary, could not fairly begin until a year or more has elapsed. In the meantime, the tranquility to which this nation has been restored by the events of recent weeks could be irreparably lost by the prospects of bringing to trial a former President of the United States. The prospects of such trial will cause prolonged and divisive debate over the propriety of exposing to further punishment and degradation a man who has already paid the unprecedented penalty of relinquishing the highest elective office of the United States.
No president has ever attempted to grant himself clemency, and even if Trump were to try, any such action would not protect him against prosecution for state crimes, Painter explained.
“And I also emphasize that none of these pardons are any good in the state of New York and in any state,” Painter said. “They do not bind the state attorney general, and Trump and all of these people working for him can be prosecuted under the laws of the state of New York or any other state where they violated the law.”
There are dozens of sealed indictments in New York State waiting to fall in Trump’s lap when he leaves office. But given Trump’s recent pardons of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Republican operative Roger Stone, as well as his propensity for pushing the limits of what he can get away with, the president attempting a self-pardon is not outside the realm of possibility.
Fifty-three days until the inauguration.
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Brandon is a political writer for the Hill Reporter specializing in current events, breaking news, and scientific discovery. Brandon holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Indiana University. He lives in New York City.