One question that keeps arising is, in the midst of all his abuses for a corrupt purpose of those pardon powers specified by the Constitution, can Donald Trump pardon himself? In a way that question has already been answered and it was answered in the Nixon administration during the last gasp of the Watergate scandal.
It was then, in 1974, that Nixon’s very own Department of Justice issued an opinion that “no one may be a judge in his own case.” They were referring to Nixon’s trial balloon of whether or not he could pardon himself for Watergate offenses. After all, judges frequently must recuse themselves for the mere appearance of conflict of interest, and what could be a greater conflict of interest than deciding one’s own sentence? (For my part, I cannot think of a single instance where I was issued a moving violation or a parking ticket when, given the chance, I wouldn’t “go easy on the boy.”)
That was the same Nixon Justice Department, by the way, that issued the famous (and now infamous) memo the year before specifying that a president could not be indicted while still in office. So, live by the sword, die by the sword. The DOJ giveth and the DOJ taketh away.
In other words, it looks like the answer is a resounding “No.” That is not what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they constitutionally provisioned future presidents with the power of the pardon.
Of course it’s doubtful that they foresaw someone exactly like Trump. Even so, Alexander Hamilton, in a private note to George Washington, wrote of the possibility of “a man unprincipled in private life desperate in his fortune, … despotic in his ordinary demeanour — [and] known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty.”
But no sane person would ever expect Donald Trump to stand on ceremony, let alone tradition, let alone the law. He may just go ahead and pardon himself and let the courts decide whether or not such obvious conflict of interest and self-dealing is sustainable under the Constitution. While they’re battling that out, here’s another one for them, how about if Joe Biden turns around and jolly well un-pardons Trump? What then?
Since there is no precedent for it one can only guess. But there is nothing stopping our next President from trying. Personally, I think if Trump pardons himself Biden should make un-pardoning him an item somewhere in his top ten list of things to do when assuming office. If for no other reason than to give Donald Trump another thing to worry about — in retribution for all the things Trump gave us to worry about during his toxic and hateful presidency.
There is one thing staying Donald Trump’s hand when it comes to the whole question of seeking a pardon for himself for his federal crimes. His narcissism. Pardoning himself carries with it the implication that he has something to pardon himself for — a very tough thing for a narcissist to admit. Nor is his narcissism likely to permit him to resign the office of the presidency before January 20 so a very temporary president Pence can do it for him.
With just 30 short days left in this drama I am loath to even speculate. We will see how it plays out. Whatever happens, don’t be surprised if it’s outrageous, disgusting and illegal. When Donald Trump is involved it usually is. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.