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Trump looks on during a news conference with French President Emmanuel
Macron in Biarritz, France on Monday. (Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images)
Congressional reporter covering the House of Representatives
August 28 at 7:41 PM
his pardons of political allies, conservative defenders and others
convicted of federal crimes, President Trump throughout his term has
sent indirect signals of his willingness to help those close to him
And now, the president has entwined that message with his chief campaign promise — by privately assuring aides that
he would pardon them of any potential illegality as the administration
rushes to build his vaunted border wall before he returns to the ballot
The notion has alarmed
congressional Democrats, who had been investigating potential
obstruction of justice on Trump’s part as the House continues to weigh
whether to launch impeachment proceedings once lawmakers return to
Washington next month.
Rep. David N. Cicilline
(R.I.), a member of the House Democratic leadership and the House
Judiciary Committee, said any suggestion that Trump would encourage
subordinates to break the law by promising pardons is “appalling” and
worthy of further investigation by the panel.
this is just one more instance of a president who undermines the rule
of law and behaves as if he’s a king and not governed by the laws of
this country,” Cicilline said in an interview Wednesday. “He is not a
king, he is accountable … I think it just adds to the ongoing proceeding
before the Judiciary Committee as we consider whether to recommend
articles of impeachment against the president.”
on Wednesday denied that he had made those private assurances, first
reported Tuesday evening by The Washington Post. Yet a White House
official who spoke on the condition of anonymity in advance of the
report did not deny it and said Trump is joking when he makes such
statements about pardons.
“Another totally Fake
story in the Amazon Washington Post (lobbyist) which states that if my
Aides broke the law to build the Wall (which is going up rapidly), I
would give them a Pardon,” Trump tweeted Wednesday afternoon. “This was
made up by The Washington Post only in order to demean and disparage —
The Post is owned by Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, although it is run independently from the online retail enterprise.
wall discussions are not the first time that Trump has reportedly
promised a pardon to a subordinate for doing something potentially
In April, the New York Times reported
that Trump told acting Homeland Security secretary Kevin McAleenan that
he would pardon him if he directed his personnel to illegally deny
asylum to migrants who request it at the southern border. Trump later denied doing so in a tweet, calling it “Another Fake Story.”
Members of the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter
to McAleenan requesting information and documents on the incident; a
panel spokesman did not respond to a question about whether McAleenan
ever responded. The committee said in a statement at the time that
“offering a pardon to encourage an officer of the U.S. government to
undertake an illegal action appears on its face to be an
unconstitutional abuse of power.”
Democrats said Trump’s pardon comments were fair game for investigation
as they continue to delve into details of potential obstruction of
justice on the part of Trump that emerged from former special counsel
Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation.
fall is a period is when we are expanding the scope of our investigation
beyond the Mueller report,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who like
Cicilline is a member of the Judiciary Committee. “The abuse of the
pardon power fits in with our broader investigation into the abuse of
the powers of the presidency.”
“It’s similar to the president ordering the executive branch not to
cooperate with congressional investigations. That is an abuse of power
and an assault on the separation of powers.”
Cicilline said it did not matter whether Trump's subordinates ultimately carried out his illegal directives.
an abuse of the pardon power, it's an abuse of the president’s
authority, and it’s very likely illegal,” he said. “So whether anyone
actually does it or not — that idea that the president of the United
States, responsible for enforcing and upholding the rule of law in this
country, is making a statement like that is just appalling.”
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Judiciary panel, did not comment on the issue Wednesday.
Several of the 15 pardons
that Trump has issued during his presidency — a power that is nearly
unchecked and that Trump has relished — have carried with them an
overtly political tone.
The first pardon Trump
issued as president went to Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa
County, Ariz., whose controversial tactics on immigration enforcement
garnered legal challenges and a conviction on a criminal contempt of
court charge. Trump pardoned him of that crime in August 2017 — less
than a month after the conviction and weeks before he was set to be
In April 2018, Trump
pardoned I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the former chief of staff to former
vice president Richard B. Cheney, who had been convicted on perjury and
obstruction of justice charges. Trump suggested Libby had been treated
unfairly by the prosecution as it probed the leak of the identity of
Valerie Plame, a CIA officer.
Trump said at the
time that he did not personally know Libby, but the pardon came as
several former Trump associates had pleaded guilty to similar charges
amid Mueller’s Russia probe.
month, Trump gave a full pardon to Dinesh D’Souza, a conservative
commentator who had pleaded guilty to illegally using straw donors for a
Republican Senate candidate in New York.
with Libby, Trump concluded that D’Souza had been mistreated and said at
the time that he was also considering clemency for former Illinois
governor Rod Blagojevich (D) and lifestyle guru Martha Stewart. The
three had been convicted of crimes similar to charges faced by former
Trump associates as part of the Mueller probe.
May of this year, Trump pardoned Conrad Black, who in 2007 was
convicted on fraud and obstruction of justice charges. The billionaire
last year penned a flattering biography of the president, “Donald J.
Trump: A president like no other,” that defended him against accusations
of racism and praised him for the “optimism to persevere and succeed,
the confidence to affront tradition and convention, a genius for
spectacle, and a firm belief in common sense and the common man.”
has even pondered pardoning himself — tweeting in June 2018 amid the
Mueller probe that he has the “absolute right” to do so and that his
argument was bolstered by “numerous legal scholars.” (Whether Trump can
actually do so is up for debate.)
than one isolated remark, it’s the pattern that’s concerning,” Sen.
Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Judiciary
Committee, said of Trump’s pardon tendencies. “As much as what he may
do, or not, is the message that it sends to the American people about
his view of the importance of law and law enforcement.”