GOP, Trump at odds on pardon power

Republican lawmakers on Monday pushed back at President TrumpDonald John TrumpDC board rejects Trump Hotel effort to dismiss complaint seeking removal of liquor license on basis of Trump's 'character' DC board rejects Trump Hotel effort to dismiss complaint seeking removal of liquor license on basis of Trump's 'character' Mexico's immigration chief resigns amid US pressure over migrants 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 CapitoBipartisan senators propose forcing EPA to set drinking water standard for 'forever chemicals' Bipartisan senators propose forcing EPA to set drinking water standard for 'forever chemicals' August recess under threat as yearly spending bills pile up 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 GrassleyOvernight Defense: Pompeo blames Iran for oil tanker attacks | House panel approves 3B defense bill | Trump shares designs for red, white and blue Air Force One On The Money: Pelosi says no debt ceiling hike until deal on spending caps | McConnell pressures White House to strike budget deal | Warren bill would wipe out billions in student debt | Senate passes IRS reform bill On The Money: Pelosi says no debt ceiling hike until deal on spending caps | McConnell pressures White House to strike budget deal | Warren bill would wipe out billions in student debt | Senate passes IRS reform bill 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 Dem to reintroduce bill with new name after 'My Little Pony' confusion Senate Dem to reintroduce bill with new name after 'My Little Pony' confusion Senators clinch votes to rebuke Trump on Saudi arms sale 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 CornynTrump puts GOP in tough spot with remarks on foreign 'dirt' Trump puts GOP in tough spot with remarks on foreign 'dirt' Overnight Health Care: Pelosi to change drug-pricing plan after complaints | 2020 Democrats to attend Planned Parenthood abortion forum | House holds first major 'Medicare for All' hearing 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 ShelbyOn The Money: Pelosi says no debt ceiling hike until deal on spending caps | McConnell pressures White House to strike budget deal | Warren bill would wipe out billions in student debt | Senate passes IRS reform bill On The Money: Pelosi says no debt ceiling hike until deal on spending caps | McConnell pressures White House to strike budget deal | Warren bill would wipe out billions in student debt | Senate passes IRS reform bill Trump's border funding comes back from the dead 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 GardnerMcConnell defends Trump amid backlash: 'He gets picked at every day' McConnell defends Trump amid backlash: 'He gets picked at every day' The Hill's Morning Report — Uproar after Trump's defense of foreign dirt on candidates MORE (R-Colo.), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said the president should not interfere with special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerKamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate 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 CruzTed Cruz, AOC have it right on banning former members of Congress from becoming lobbyists Ted Cruz, AOC have it right on banning former members of Congress from becoming lobbyists Overnight Health Care: Democratic bill would require insurance to cover OTC birth control | House Dems vote to overturn ban on fetal tissue research | New rule aims to expand health choices for small businesses MORE (R-Texas), a constitutional lawyer who is up for reelection this year.

Sen. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsEPA exempts farms from reporting pollution tied to animal waste EPA exempts farms from reporting pollution tied to animal waste Conservatives spark threat of bloody GOP primaries MORE (R-Kan.) declined to talk about the subject, and Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonHillicon Valley: Lawmakers angered over Border Patrol breach | Senate Dems press FBI over Russian hacking response | Emails reportedly show Zuckerberg knew of Facebook's privacy issues | FCC looks to improve broadband mapping Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers angered over Border Patrol breach | Senate Dems press FBI over Russian hacking response | Emails reportedly show Zuckerberg knew of Facebook's privacy issues | FCC looks to improve broadband mapping Lawmakers demand answers on Border Patrol data breach 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 SchumerUS women's soccer team reignites equal pay push Blue Dogs look to move forward on infrastructure project Democratic strategist says Republicans are turning immigration debate into 'political football' 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.