Barr: President may be 'held accountable' if he pardons himself

Barr: President may be 'held accountable' if he pardons himself
© Greg Nash

President TrumpDonald John TrumpWarren defends, Buttigieg attacks in debate that shrank the field Five takeaways from the Democratic debate in Ohio Democrats debate in Ohio: Who came out on top? MORE's attorney general pick William Barr said Tuesday that while the constitution may allow a president to pardon himself or his family members, the president could be held accountable for abuse of power for doing so.

Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsMeet the dog and 'sea turtle' who launched campaigns for office Senators demand briefing on Trump's decision to withdraw from Syria 2020 Democrats push for gun control action at forum MORE (D-Del.) asked Barr during his nomination hearing if Barr believed that a president has the ability to pardon himself or family members.

Trump and his attorney Rudy Giuliani have both said they believe Trump does have the hypothetical power to pardon himself, while constitutional experts have said the matter is unclear.

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“Yes, he does have the power to pardon a family member, but he would then have to face the fact that he could be held accountable for abusing his power,” Barr answered. “Or if it was connected to some act in violating an obstruction statute, then it could be obstruction.”

When Coons pressed Barr on how a president could be held accountable, the nominee said that individual could face prosecution if a statute was violated.

But if no laws were broken, Barr said the president would be held accountable politically.

Coons also questioned Barr over what he would do if the president attempted to fire federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York who have charged Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen. Trump has been referenced -- but not by name -- in court filings in Cohen’s case.

Barr said that he doesn’t believe that firing officials necessarily stops an investigation.

However, he said that “if someone tried to stop a bona fide, lawful investigation to cover up wrongdoing, I would resign.”

The president has repeatedly attacked Cohen after his former attorney began cooperating in the investigation. The lawyer has also worked with special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerFox News legal analyst says Trump call with Ukraine leader could be 'more serious' than what Mueller 'dragged up' Lewandowski says Mueller report was 'very clear' in proving 'there was no obstruction,' despite having 'never' read it Fox's Cavuto roasts Trump over criticism of network MORE's probe.

Cohen will testify before lawmakers in February, a move that Trump has also criticized as an attempt "to get [Cohen's] sentence reduced."

Cohen pleaded guilty last year to federal charges, including one count of lying to Congress. In December, he was sentenced to three years in jail.