Republicans and Democrats agree: presidents should not self-pardon

A new poll has found that Americans generally agree that presidents should not pardon themselves. Three-quarters of Republicans say a president should not self-pardon if charged with a crime and more than 9 in 10 Democrats agree.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP
President Trump attends a Change of Command ceremony at the United States Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington on June 1, 2018. Trump asserted his presidential power and escalated his efforts to discredit the special counsel Russia probe a week earlier, declaring he has the 'absolute right' to pardon himself.

Even in an era of deep political division, Democrats and Republicans agree presidents should not pardon themselves. And if the nation's chief executive ever does so, majorities of Americans in both parties believe Congress should impeach that president.

Those are the findings of a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, which comes as federal authorities continue their months-long criminal investigation into Russia's intervention in the 2016 election and the actions of President Trump's campaign.

Already, prosecutors have charged four Trump campaign associates – including the one-time campaign chairman, Paul Manafort – with felonies as part of the probe, and special counsel Robert Mueller wants to question the Republican president directly.

Mr. Trump raised the possibility of a self-pardon on Twitter earlier in this month, 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?"

By a wide margin, Americans believe Trump is wrong: 85 percent think it would be unacceptable for presidents to pardon themselves if charged with a crime, and 76 percent think Congress should take steps to remove a president from office if they did so.

The survey did not ask about Trump by name, but several poll respondents in follow-up interviews – including some strong Trump supporters – said their feelings would not change when applied to the current president.

"Pardon himself? You might as well cash in your chips and leave office," said Bruce Novak, a retiree from Davie, Fla., who otherwise praised Trump's job performance and vowed to vote for him again in 2020. "It's not at all acceptable. I don't care who you are."

Recent AP-NORC surveys have found strong splits in opinion by party on issues related to Trump and his policies. While 8 in 10 Republicans approve of the job he's doing as president, for example, only 1 out of every 10 Democrats says the same.

But there's little such disagreement on the question of pardons. Three-quarters of Republicans say a president should not self-pardon if charged with a crime, while 56 percent say Congress should impeach a president who did so. More than 9 in 10 Democrats agree.

Brynn Alexander, a registered Republican who lives in Fort Mitchell, Ala., railed against what she called bias among Mueller's investigators. "They really hate this guy," Ms. Alexander said, referring to Mr. Trump. But, she added, "I don't think he should pardon himself. It looks bad."

If he did so, Alexander is among the minority of Americans who don't believe that should lead Congress to take immediate action. "I don't think they should automatically remove him. He's doing so much good for the country," said Alexander, a stay-at-home mother of three whose husband is an active duty soldier in the Army.

"Maybe he did do something wrong, but because there's so much bias, it's hard to say," she said.

One of the most sweeping powers granted to a president, pardons are outlined in Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution, which says the president "shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment."

Trump has issued several high profile pardons since taking office, including to former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was awaiting sentencing for contempt of court, and a United States Navy sailor convicted of taking photos of classified portions of a submarine. In May, he issued a rare posthumous pardon to Jack Johnson, clearing boxing's first black heavyweight champion more than 100 years after what many believe was a racist conviction.

In April, Trump also pardoned I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, a former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, who Trump said had been "treated unfairly" during an investigation carried out by a special counsel.

Despite Trump's declaration on social media that he could pardon himself, it's not clear the Constitution grants him that authority and that question has never been tested in the courts. Trump's lawyer, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, has argued that a president "probably does" have the power to pardon himself – but he also insists Trump would never do so.

"Pardoning himself would be unthinkable and probably lead to immediate impeachment," Giuliani told NBC's "Meet the Press" earlier this month.

On that point, James Baker agrees. The 76-year-old Republican from the northern Chicago suburbs has been pleasantly surprised by Trump's job performance. But he says the Constitution doesn't go so far as to allow a president to use the power of the pardon as a get out of jail free card.

"If it ever did get to that point and he's convicted of crimes – it has to be pretty serious to get to that point – then that should stand," said Mr. Baker, a self-described history buff. "I don't think anybody should ever have the power to pardon himself.

"No one's above the law," Baker added. "Not even the president."

This story was reported by The Associated Press. 

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