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GOP, Trump at odds on pardon power

Republican lawmakers on Monday pushed back at President TrumpDonald TrumpNoem touts South Dakota coronavirus response, knocks lockdowns in CPAC speech On The Trail: Cuomo and Newsom — a story of two embattled governors McCarthy: 'I would bet my house' GOP takes back lower chamber in 2022 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 CapitoPassage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is the first step to heal our democracy Biden's unity effort falters Capito asks White House to allow toxic chemicals rule to proceed 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 GrassleyChuck GrassleyGrassley to vote against Tanden nomination Grassley says he'll decide this fall whether to run in 2022 Yellen deputy Adeyemo on track for quick confirmation 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) MoranGraham: Trump will 'be helpful' to all Senate GOP incumbents The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden vs. Trump, part II Passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is the first step to heal our democracy 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 CornynPolitics, not racism or sexism, explain opposition to Biden Cabinet nominees Biden pledges support for Texas amid recovery from winter storm Partisan headwinds threaten Capitol riot commission 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 ShelbyBlack Caucus members lobby Biden to tap Shalanda Young for OMB head On The Money: Senate panels postpone Tanden meetings in negative sign | Biden signs supply chain order after 'positive' meeting with lawmakers Passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is the first step to heal our democracy 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 GardnerBiden administration reverses Trump changes it says 'undermined' conservation program Gardner to lead new GOP super PAC ahead of midterms OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court rules against fast-track of Trump EPA's 'secret science' rule | Bureau of Land Management exodus: Agency lost 87 percent of staff in Trump HQ relocation | GM commits to electric light duty fleet by 2035 MORE (R-Colo.), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said the president should not interfere with special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerWhy a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel CNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump 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 CruzNoem touts South Dakota coronavirus response, knocks lockdowns in CPAC speech Sunday shows preview: 2024 hopefuls gather at CPAC; House passes coronavirus relief; vaccine effort continues Texas attorney general hits links with Trump before CPAC appearance MORE (R-Texas), a constitutional lawyer who is up for reelection this year.

Sen. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsPat Roberts joins lobbying firm weeks after Senate retirement Senate swears-in six new lawmakers as 117th Congress convenes Window quickly closing for big coronavirus deal MORE (R-Kan.) declined to talk about the subject, and Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGraham: Trump will 'be helpful' to all Senate GOP incumbents Partisan headwinds threaten Capitol riot commission Cruz hires Trump campaign press aide as communications director 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 SchumerChuck SchumerThe bizarre back story of the filibuster Hillicon Valley: Biden signs order on chips | Hearing on media misinformation | Facebook's deal with Australia | CIA nominee on SolarWinds House Rules release new text of COVID-19 relief bill 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.