Minn., N.D. elected officials skeptical about Trump's power to pardon himself
President Donald Trump's Monday claim that he can pardon himself garnered little support from North Dakota and Minnesota's leaders, with some even seeming to warn him — or reassure others — about the limits of the presidency's power.
"The president may have that authority," Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said in a prepared statement. "But the founding fathers built checks and balances into the Constitution between the legislative, executive and judicial branches in order to ensure that the power of the people is protected."
Trump, under scrutiny for his 2016 campaign's alleged collusion with Russia, has offered multiple pardons recently, including for Scooter Libby, a former Dick Cheney aide convicted of perjury, and for a conservative pundit Dinesh D'Souza, who pleaded guilty to making illegal political contributions in 2014. Those pardons have raised questions about how the president will treat those ensnared in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the 2016 election, including — potentially — himself.
"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?" Trump tweeted on Monday morning, going on to criticize Mueller's investigation.
Reaction was muted at best. The office of Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., and an ally of the president, said he was unavailable for an interview and did not provide a statement. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., expressed skepticism.
"I'm not a lawyer, so I have no idea whether it's legal for Trump to pardon himself or not," Peterson said in a statement provided to the Herald. "But to the average person this sounds like a stretch."
Others offered stronger language. Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., said in a brief statement that "the president of the United States should not be above the law." Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, in her own statement, expanded on the same thought.
"It's absolutely necessary for a functioning government and democracy that we maintain a system where no one person is immune from the consequences of their actions," she said. "It is imperative that the independent special counsel is able to do his job without intrusion or intimidation — to get all of the facts and present his case to Congress."
Scholars are divided on the issue, though they've offered a self-pardon few hearty endorsements. Writing in USA Today, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley says it is permissible, but would be a "self-dealing abuse of power" and could be included in articles of impeachment.
In an email to the Herald, University of Minnesota law professor Heidi Kitrosser said the Constitution is silent on the specific case of a self-pardon, but tied to themes like "the rule of law rather than the whims and self-interests of individual men."
"Given these principles, I think that the best argument — though, again, not one made explicit in the text — is that the President cannot legally pardon himself," she wrote.
The same appears to go for Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. She, like many of her Democratic colleagues, emphasized that "nobody is above the law."
"That includes the President of the United States," she said. "It is important that Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation continue without interference from the White House or Congress."