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GOP, Trump at odds on pardon power

Republican lawmakers on Monday pushed back at President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Guardian slams Trump over comments about assault on reporter Five takeaways from the first North Dakota Senate debate Watchdog org: Tillerson used million in taxpayer funds to fly throughout US 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 CapitoThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Dem path to a Senate majority narrows GOP shrugs off dire study warning of global warming Overnight Health Care — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Senators face Wednesday vote on Trump health plans rule | Trump officials plan downtime for ObamaCare website | Lawmakers push for action on reducing maternal deaths 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 GrassleyTrump officials ratchet up drug pricing fight Dems angered by GOP plan to hold judicial hearings in October American Bar Association dropping Kavanaugh review 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) MoranSenate Republicans demand Google hand over memo advising it to hide data vulnerability Overnight Defense — Presented by The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates — Missing journalist strains US-Saudi ties | Senators push Trump to open investigation | Trump speaks with Saudi officials | New questions over support for Saudi coalition in Yemen Senators demand answers on Trump administration backing of Saudi coalition in Yemen 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 CornynFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke debate showdown Live coverage: Cruz faces O'Rourke in Texas debate showdown Trump, Feinstein feud intensifies over appeals court nominees 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 ShelbyDisasters become big chunk of U.S. deficit Lawmakers, Wall Street shrug off Trump's escalating Fed attacks Florida politics play into disaster relief debate 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 GardnerDemocrats must end mob rule GOP senators praise Haley as 'powerful' and 'unafraid' Democrats won’t let Kavanaugh debate die 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 CruzO'Rourke gives 'a definitive no' to possibility of running in 2020 Vicente Fox endorses Beto O'Rourke in Texas Senate race Beto O'Rourke on impeachment: 'There is enough there to proceed' MORE (R-Texas), a constitutional lawyer who is up for reelection this year.

Sen. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsEvangelical leader: Not worth risking ties with Saudi Arabia over missing journalist GOP loads up lame-duck agenda as House control teeters Congress allows farm bill to lapse before reauthorization deadline MORE (R-Kan.) declined to talk about the subject, and Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senator seeking information on FBI dealings with Bruce Ohr, former DOJ lawyer Election Countdown: O'Rourke brings in massive M haul | Deal on judges lets senators return to the trail | Hurricane puts Florida candidates in the spotlight | Adelson spending big to save GOP in midterms Senate Homeland chair vents Mueller probe is preventing panel from receiving oversight answers 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 SchumerThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns McConnell says deficits 'not a Republican problem' Medicare for All is disastrous for American seniors and taxpayers 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.