25 years ago, in the Harold Becker film Malice, Alec Baldwin famously declared, “You ask me if I have a God complex? Let me tell you something: I am God.” The man Baldwin parodies on Saturday Night Live obviously feels the same way, which is why the question of whether the 45th President will pardon himself answers itself:
President Trump’s attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani said Sunday that the president’s constitutional powers probably include the ability to pardon himself. But he said such a move would surely incite political blowback and lead to impeachment proceedings.
Giuliani, appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” was asked about a letter sent by Trump’s legal team early this year to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III saying the president can’t be forced to testify as part of Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The 20-page letter asserted that Trump has unlimited power over federal investigations and could terminate any investigation “or even exercise his power to pardon.” The existence of the letter was first reported by the New York Times.
When ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked Giuliani whether Trump has the ability to pardon himself, the former prosecutor — who was not on Trump’s legal team when the letter was written — laughed and then said probably so.
“He probably does,” he said. “He has no intention of pardoning himself, but he probably — not to say he can’t.”
The Constitution, in Article II, states that the president “shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.”
“I think it would probably get answered by, ‘Gosh, that’s what the Constitution says; if you want to change it, change it.’ I think the political ramifications of that would be tough,” Giuliani said.
On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Giuliani framed the pardon question as purely hypothetical and politically implausible.
“It’s not going to happen. It’s a hypothetical point,” he told host Chuck Todd. He went on to describe such a move as “unthinkable” and said it would probably lead immediately to impeachment.
This is not the first time the issue of the president’s ability to pardon himself has come up. As early as last summer, as Mueller’s probe proceeded, the president began asking advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself. His lawyers at the time began discussing his pardoning powers as well.
Trump pal Chris Christie also speculated that a self-pardon would lead to impeachment. Sure. Trump knows that Congress will lack the fortitude to launch an impeachment effort, even if the House and Senate change hands in November. Tom Steyer threw his money down a rabbit hole when he started his campaign to have Trump impeached and removed from office for his obvious crimes against the Constitution. The official Beltway consensus is that an impeachment effort is just too damn difficult to even bother–and Trump knows that he can easily get away with countless violations of our Constitutional values.
Trump’s pardons of Joe Arpaio, Scooter Libby and Dinesh D’Souza were just rehearsals and soundchecks for the big concert. He knows that the average American–even the average anti-Trump American–paid little, if any, attention to those morally outrageous decisions, and that so long as the economy is perceived to be doing well, the average American will likely yawn at the prospect of Trump pardoning himself for the specific crimes Mueller uncovers. After a year and a half of Trump’s abuses, too many Americans are still more drowsy than “woke.”
The idea that a Trump self-pardon would trigger a constitutional crisis is a bit short-sighted; the constitutional crisis was triggered at noon on January 20, 2017. It will not end with impeachment and removal from office. How will it end? Will it continue until January 20, 2025?