GOP, Trump at odds on pardon power

Republican lawmakers on Monday pushed back at President TrumpDonald John TrumpSanders apologizes to Biden for supporter's op-ed Jayapal: 'We will end up with another Trump' if the US doesn't elect progressive Democrats: McConnell impeachment trial rules a 'cover up,' 'national disgrace' 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 CapitoDemocrat Richard Ojeda announces Senate bid after dropping out of presidential race Spending bill to address miners' health care, pensions Manchin warns he'll slow-walk government funding bill until he gets deal on miners legislation 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 GrassleyGOP can beat Democrats after impeachment — but it needs to do this one thing Trump administration planning to crack down on 'birth tourism': report Senate begins preparations for Trump trial 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) MoranOvernight Defense: War powers fight runs into impeachment | Kaine has 51 votes for Iran resolution | Trump plans to divert .2B from Pentagon to border wall War powers fight in Senate runs squarely into impeachment Third GOP senator says he'll support Iran war powers resolution 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 CornynDemocrats worry a speedy impeachment trial will shut out public Sunday shows - All eyes on Senate impeachment trial Cornyn disputes GAO report on withholding of Ukraine aid: It's 'certainly not a crime' 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 ShelbyRoberts under pressure from both sides in witness fight GOP senator on Trump soliciting foreign interference: 'Those are just statements' Sunday shows - All eyes on Senate impeachment trial 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 GardnerJuan Williams: Counting the votes to remove Trump George Conway group drops ad seeking to remind GOP senators of their 'sworn oaths' ahead of impeachment trial Mitch McConnell may win the impeachment and lose the Senate MORE (R-Colo.), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said the president should not interfere with special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSchiff: Trump acquittal in Senate trial would not signal a 'failure' Jeffries blasts Trump for attack on Thunberg at impeachment hearing Live coverage: House Judiciary to vote on impeachment after surprise delay 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 CruzJuan Williams: Counting the votes to remove Trump Sunday shows - All eyes on Senate impeachment trial Cruz: Hearing from witnesses could extend Senate trial to up to 8 weeks MORE (R-Texas), a constitutional lawyer who is up for reelection this year.

Sen. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsJuan Williams: Counting the votes to remove Trump Senate GOP hopes to move new NAFTA deal before impeachment trial The Hill's Morning Report - Worries about war in world capitals, Congress MORE (R-Kan.) declined to talk about the subject, and Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonTrump lawyers urge senators to swiftly acquit Trump in impeachment trial Hillicon Valley: Barr asks Apple to unlock Pensacola shooter's phone | Tech industry rallies behind Google in Supreme Court fight | Congress struggles to set rules for cyber warfare with Iran | Blog site Boing Boing hacked Congress struggles on rules for cyber warfare with Iran 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 SchumerTrump administration installs plaque marking finish of 100 miles of border wall Sanders defends vote against USMCA: 'Not a single damn mention' of climate change Schumer votes against USMCA, citing climate implications 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.