GOP, Trump at odds on pardon power

Republican lawmakers on Monday pushed back at President TrumpDonald John TrumpNFL players stand in tunnel during anthem, extending protests 12 former top intel officials blast Trump's move to revoke Brennan's security clearance NYT: Omarosa believed to have as many as 200 tapes MORE’s claim that he has the power to pardon himself.

Trump’s assertion sparked a new round of Republican angst with the White House.

“It doesn’t make sense to me,” said Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoSenate GOP battles for leverage with House on spending Lawmakers, media team up for charity tennis event The Hill's Morning Report — Trump picks new fight with law enforcement, intelligence community MORE (R-W.Va.) when asked about Trump’s statements. “I certainly don’t think it would be a welcome strategy.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyConnect Beltway to America to get federal criminal justice reform done Schumer to meet with Kavanaugh on Tuesday Dems threaten to sue for Kavanaugh records MORE (R-Iowa) told CNN, “If I were president of the United States and I had a lawyer that told me I could pardon myself, I think I would hire a new lawyer.”

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A GOP senator who requested anonymity to comment candidly expressed frustration with the president stirring the controversy.

“I don’t know why he’d want to talk about it. It doesn’t make any sense,” the lawmaker stated.

“He should be talking about the wonderful jobs report. Hispanic unemployment is at a historic low. Why step on that story?” the senator added.

Sen. Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranTougher Russia sanctions face skepticism from Senate Republicans Farm groups fear Trump aid won’t fix trade damage GOP senator: Trump said he never heard of anyone who didn’t want a payment from the government MORE (R-Kan.) said he would leave a definitive judgment on Trump’s pardon authority to constitutional scholars but warned, “The president’s powers are not unlimited, and no person is above the law.”

Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynTop Senate Intel Dem: Trump compiling a 'Nixonian enemies list' It’s possible to protect national security without jeopardizing the economy Archivist rejects Democrats' demand for Kavanaugh documents MORE (Texas) told reporters Monday that questions about Trump’s ability to pardon himself are “academic” and a “distraction.”

“I think that’s an academic argument — sounds like a debate law students would have over what the technical power is. I think it’s a distraction because so far there’s been, on a bipartisan basis, a conclusion … there’s no evidence of collusion,” he said.

Cornyn argued that talk about a Trump self-pardon is a sideshow because the special counsel has yet to present evidence that he broke the law.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyForeign aid for conservation is a benefit to US consumers Rand Paul delivers Putin letter from Trump Senators privately met foreign allies to reassure them of NATO support MORE (R-Ala.) warned that a self-pardon wouldn’t be a good idea.

“I’ve always said I didn’t think anybody was above or below the law,” he said.

He speculated the president “could probably pardon himself,” but cautioned, “I don’t think I’d recommend” it.

“A governor can appoint himself to the U.S. Senate, and they have, but it hasn’t worked out very well,” he added.

Trump set off a legal debate earlier Monday when, citing “numerous legal scholars,” he asserted on Twitter broad power to pardon himself even though he also claimed he had not violated any laws and therefore had no need of such legal protection.

Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerBusinesses fear blowback from Russia sanctions bill Senate GOP campaign arm asking Trump to endorse McSally in Arizona: report When it comes to drone tech, wildfire officials need the rights tools for the job MORE (R-Colo.), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said the president should not interfere with special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, including possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Moscow.

“What we need to do is finish the investigation. Let’s get the facts, let’s get the information,” he said. “I’ve supported the investigation. I’ve supported the effort to get this done. It needs to be done.” 

Other Republicans, including Vice President Pence, say it’s time for Mueller to wrap up his probe.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tried to quell the pardon uproar by repeatedly telling reporters at an afternoon briefing that the debate is moot because the president will not need a pardon.

“The president hasn’t done anything wrong and wouldn’t have any need for a pardon,” Sanders asserted, and repeated her talking point several times.

Sanders acknowledged that Trump is not above the law, saying, “Certainly, no one is above the law.”

This was the latest Twitter-spawned political headache for GOP lawmakers, who would prefer to be talking about the economy and their accomplishments instead of Trump’s legal problems.

Some Republicans opted not to criticize Trump.

“This is not a constitutional issue I’ve studied,” said Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzBeto O’Rourke: Term limits can help keep politicians from turning into a--holes Election Countdown: GOP worries House majority endangered by top of ticket | Dems make history in Tuesday's primaries | Parties fight for Puerto Rican vote in Florida | GOP lawmakers plan 'Freedom Tour' Former spokeswoman defends Trump calling Omarosa ‘dog’: He’s called men dogs MORE (R-Texas), a constitutional lawyer who is up for reelection this year.

Sen. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsThe farm bill gives Congress a chance to act on the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act Kobach secures GOP nomination in hotly contested Kansas governor's race GOP senators surprised to attend Trump’s tariffs announcement MORE (R-Kan.) declined to talk about the subject, and Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonHillicon Valley: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey sits down with The Hill | Drama over naming DHS cyber office | Fallout over revoking Brennan's security clearance | Google workers protest censored search engine for China Name change eludes DHS cyber wing, spurring frustration Trump draws bipartisan fire over Brennan MORE (R-Wis.) said he would leave the debate about Trump’s pardon power to legal experts.

Democrats seized on Trump’s tweets as a sign that he is growing increasingly nervous as Mueller’s investigation draws closer to its final stages.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerReforms can stop members of Congress from using their public office for private gain Election Countdown: GOP worries House majority endangered by top of ticket | Dems make history in Tuesday's primaries | Parties fight for Puerto Rican vote in Florida | GOP lawmakers plan 'Freedom Tour' Senate Democrats should stop playing politics on Kavanaugh MORE (N.Y.) argued that no president has the power to pardon himself.

“If they did, the presidency would function above and outside the law, counter to the very founding principles of our country,” he said on the Senate floor, adding, “If the presidents had the power to pardon themselves, we’d no longer be a democracy.”

Legal experts have offered conflicting opinions.

Steve Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas, Austin, on Monday pointed to a Justice Department memo from the Office of Legal Counsel from 1974 that concluded the president cannot validly pardon himself.

Mark Tushnet, a professor at Harvard Law School, however, told CNBC that “the weight of the arguments lies in favor of finding that the president has the power to self-pardon” because the Constitution gives the chief executive authority to make sure that laws are faithfully executed.

He argued this gives the president and his administration broad authority to initiate and terminate investigations.

Trump’s legal team has asserted he has the power to pardon himself though it has downplayed the likelihood that he would invoke it.

Rudy Giuliani, one of Trump’s lawyers, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that “there’s nothing that limits the presidential power of pardon from a federal crime.”

But, he added, “It’s not going to happen.”

Trump’s legal team stated in a confidential 20-page memo to Mueller, dated Jan. 29, that Trump could terminate the special counsel’s inquiry or “exercise his power to pardon if he so desires.”

The New York Times made the document public over the weekend.

Giuliani, however, admitted Sunday there would likely be a severe political backlash if Trump pardoned himself.

“It would lead to probably an immediate impeachment,” he said on NBC, adding that the Senate would be “under tremendous pressure” to convict the president of any articles of impeachment passed by the House.