Debate over whether Trump has power to pardon himself

President leaves option open; he also defends A-G over 'campaign discussions' with Russian envoy

NORFOLK (Virginia) • US President Donald Trump has asserted the "complete power to pardon" relatives, aides and possibly even himself in response to investigations into Russia's meddling in last year's election, as he came to the defence of Attorney-General Jeff Sessions just days after expressing regret about appointing him.

Mr Trump suggested in a series of messages on Twitter that he had no need to use the power to pardon at this point but left the option open.

Presidents have the authority to pardon others for federal crimes, but legal scholars debate whether a president can pardon himself. Mr Trump's use of the word "complete" seemed to suggest he did not see a limit to that authority.

"While all agree the US President has the complete power to pardon, why think of that when only crime so far is LEAKS against us," he wrote on Twitter last Saturday. "FAKE NEWS."

The Washington Post (WP) reported in recent days that the President and his advisers had discussed pardons, as a special counsel intensifies a probe into whether associates of Mr Trump and his campaign conspired with Russia to intervene in last year's US presidential campaign.

But new White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci yesterday downplayed Mr Trump's comments, asserting that "the President is thinking about pardoning nobody".

Pressed on the rationale for the tweet in an interview on CNN's State of the Union show, Mr Scaramucci said: "It has been coming up a lot, because there's an undercurrent of nonsensical stuff... The truth of the matter is that the President isn't going to have to pardon anybody because the Russia thing is a nonsensical thing."

NONSENSICAL MATTER

It has been coming up a lot, because there's an undercurrent of nonsensical stuff... The truth of the matter is that the President isn't going to have to pardon anybody because the Russia thing is a nonsensical thing.

MR ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, the new White House communications director.

Mr Trump also responded last Saturday to an article by WP reporting that Mr Sessions may have discussed campaign activities and policy with Russia's then ambassador Sergey Kislyak last year, despite his public statements to the contrary.

In the article, WP cited intercepted communications between Mr Kislyak and his home office in Moscow. Mr Trump excoriated the newspaper and expressed no concern about Mr Session's conduct.

"A new INTELLIGENCE LEAK from the Amazon Washington Post, this time against A.G. Jeff Sessions," Mr Trump wrote. "These illegal leaks, like Comey's, must stop!"

He was equating the report in WP, which is owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, to a decision by Mr James Comey to leak contents of a memo he wrote describing a conversation he had with the President. Mr Comey, who Mr Trump fired as Federal Bureau of Investigation director, has said the memo was unclassified and not illegal to disclose.

WP reported that Mr Kislyak told his superiors in Moscow that he had discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow, with Mr Sessions during the campaign, contrary to Mr Sessions' public assertions.

Justice Department spokesman Sarah Isgur Flores said in a statement she could not comment "on the reliability of what anonymous sources describe in a wholly uncorroborated intelligence intercept".

She added that Mr Sessions "never met with or had any conversations with any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election". She did not deny that Mr Sessions discussed campaign or policy issues more generally with Mr Kislyak.

Mr Scaramucci said yesterday that stopping damaging leaks was a priority and that he would take "drastic action" to achieve that goal.

"We have to get the leaks stopped," he told Fox News yesterday. "What's going on right now is a high level of unprofessionalism, and it's not helping the President. I will take drastic action to stop the leaks."

NYTIMES, WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 24, 2017, with the headline 'Debate over whether Trump has power to pardon himself'. Print Edition | Subscribe