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 TrumpCould Donald Trump and Boris Johnson be this generation's Reagan-Thatcher? Merkel backs Democratic congresswomen over Trump How China's currency manipulation cheats America on trade 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 CoonsTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand Senate Democrats skipping Pence's border trip GOP chairman introduces bill to force 'comprehensive review' of US-Saudi relationship 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 MuellerTop Republican considered Mueller subpoena to box in Democrats 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 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.