United States President Donald Trump says he has committed no wrongdoing but has the “absolute” power to pardon himself, echoing sweeping arguments put forth by his lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
- Mr Trump tweets Mr Mueller’s appointment is totally unconstitutional
- Mr Giuliani says Mr Trump pardoning himself would likely lead to impeachment
- US constitution silent on whether President’s power to grant pardons extends to himself
The remarks come as US special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US election and possible illegal obstruction of that probe by the President enters its second year.
“The constitution gave the president the right to pardon himself,” Mr Giuliani said, adding Mr Trump would not need to because “he didn’t do anything wrong”.
Mr Trump said the same thing on Twitter, writing: “As has been stated by numerous legal scholars, I have the absolute right to PARDON myself, but why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong?”
In another tweet he called Mr Mueller’s appointment “totally UNCONSTITUTIONAL”.
Rudy Giuliani said it was an “open question” whether Donald Trump would sit for an interview with Robert Mueller. (AP: Carolyn Kaster)
Mr Trump has denied he colluded with Russians or obstructed justice and repeated in tweets his frequent claim that the Mr Mueller investigation is a “witch hunt”.
Russia has denied US intelligence agencies’ assessment that Moscow sought to interfere with the 2016 US election to boost Mr Trump’s prospects of becoming president.
The constitution is silent on the issue of whether the President’s broad power to grant pardons extends to himself, and some lawyers say that supports Mr Trump’s position.
But many legal experts disagree. Andrew Wright, a former associate counsel in the Obama White House, said allowing the President to pardon himself would be contrary to fundamental principles of the American legal system.
Mr Giuliani said a move by Mr Trump to pardon himself would likely trigger political blowback leading to his impeachment.
The comments by Mr Trump and Mr Giuliani followed a report by The New York Times of a confidential memo sent to Mr Mueller in January.
In that memo, Mr Trump’s lawyers argued the President could not have obstructed the investigation because, as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, he already has the power to terminate it.
Many legal experts say the President’s actions could be considered obstruction if prosecutors can show he acted with “corrupt intent”.
Mr Mueller, who was appointed by Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein in the wake of the May 2017 firing of FBI director James Comey, has so far secured five guilty pleas.
Among those who have pleaded guilty are former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn and Rick Gates, a longtime business partner of Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman who has been indicted in the investigation.
Mr Mueller’s team also has charged 13 Russians and three Russian companies.
The 20-page memo to Mr Mueller came in response to repeated requests by the special counsel’s office asking to interview Mr Trump, according to the Times.
The memo asserted Mr Mueller could not subpoena Mr Trump to testify because it would interfere with “the President’s prime function as the chief executive” and demean “the office of the president before the world”.
Mr Trump already has raised questions about his use of the presidential pardon power.
Last week he pardoned Dinesh D’Souza, a conservative pundit convicted of campaign finance crimes, and last year he pardoned former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, who campaigned for Mr Trump before being convicted in a case regarding racial profiling.