With the FBI having confirmed last month that it’s actively investigating the Donald Trump campaign over its alleged role in Russian election collusion, popular debate has arisen as to whether Trump might try to pardon his advisers and associates – and even himself – from any federal crimes they may have committed. But as it turns out, Trump cannot pardon anyone from any state level crimes they’ve committed. That means New York State’s ongoing investigation carries more weight than some realize.
Because no U.S. president has ever tried to pardon himself or his alleged co-conspirators from federal crimes, there is no concrete consensus – even among legal experts – as to whether the Constitution gives the president that power. For instance the Wall Street Journal’s view is that he “probably” can (link). If Donald Trump were to attempt it, the matter could end up being decided in what would be a groundbreaking Supreme Court case. Even if Trump were successful, he could not prevent Congress from impeaching and removing him from office – but he could try to pardon himself and his associates on the way out the door.
But with the recent buzz that New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is seeking RICO indictments in Donald Trump’s Russia scandal (link), that led a Twitter user named William Butler to assert today that Donald Trump would not be able to pardon anyone from state level charges that New York might bring. Palmer Report has researched the matter, and according to the Department of Justice official website, it turns out that assertion is correct.
The DOJ website asks the question “Does the President have authority to grant clemency for a state conviction?” Then it flatly answers the question with a “No” (link). Pardons are defined as a form of clemency. This means that Donald Trump cannot pardon himself or his associates from any state level charges or convictions they may face in the New York Attorney General’s ongoing investigation.
Because there is no precedent, it’s not entirely clear how things would play out if the State of New York were to bring criminal charges against Donald Trump while he’s president. For instance, sitting president Ulysses S. Grant was once arrested for racing his horse and buggy at a dangerously unsafe speed (link), but police let him go when they concluded they weren’t sure if they had the constitutional right to hold him.
Palmer Report pointed out earlier today that Donald Trump hasn’t set foot in his home state of New York since he took office (link), avoiding his own home at Trump Tower in favor of Mar-a-Lago. Even if Trump can’t be arrested by the State of New York, he may be avoiding the state because he’s under the impression he can be arrested if he sets foot there.
All of the above demonstrates just how little precedent there is in this in the area. However, one aspect is very clear under the law: if New York does bring charges against Donald Trump’s associates, there is nothing Trump can do to subvert it. Contribute to Palmer Report
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report