This is the last week in power for Donald Trump. His term ends on the 20th with the inauguration of Joe Biden. Like the rest of your presidency, however, these days can be a whirlwind. There is a possibility – unprecedented and controversial – that Trump will decide to forgive himself for possible crimes.
He could use the mechanism known as the presidential pardon. It is an executive power with which a president can protect a person from justice. Trump’s predecessors used it, but it never happened that a president wanted to protect himself, as he does now.
Trump has given signs that he is considering this measure in the past. This is the same president, by the way, who said in a 2016 campaign that he could run on 5th Avenue, shoot someone and not lose voters. Your behavior takes this idea of invulnerability into account.
But it was all the more urgent in the final days of his tenure, especially after Trump appeared on a recording pressuring Georgian Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to change the presidential election result. It was a federal crime, according to legal experts, because it was an attempt to manipulate a claim that shows no signs of fraud.
The events of the 6th also weighed heavily, when a crowd of supporters of the president invaded the Capitol, killing at least five people. Voices from the Democratic and Republican parties accuse Trump of encouraging this violence. For this reason, on Wednesday (13) the Chamber approved his indictment for “incitement to insurrection”. Trump is the first US president to be twice excluded from the House.
It’s unclear whether Trump fears these two episodes in particular, or whether the idea of self-responsibility is tied to other possible crimes – such as obstruction of justice in the case of Russian influence in the election. from 2016, pressure for Ukraine to investigate its escape rival Biden.
Since he has not yet been charged, he may even attempt to issue a generic pardon for any crime he may have committed during his sentence.
As soon as he leaves the presidency, after all, Trump will respond to lawsuits like any other citizen. You can be convicted and arrested.
According to the American newspaper The New York Times, Trump often asked people around him if he could even forgive himself – and what the legal and political effects would be.
The problem is, no one knows. No other president has tried to be indulgent with himself.
The closest that came to this was Richard Nixon, who envisioned self-forgiveness but gave up. What happened was that the president who succeeded him, Gerald Ford, forgave Nixon for all crimes committed in power. It was controversial, but it helped the political transition after the Watergate scandal, which led to Nixon’s resignation in 1974.
What the Constitution says is that a president can “grant” (“grant”, in the original text) pardon, except in the event of removal from office. One of the arguments against Trump’s forgiveness is that no one can give themselves anything. A second person would be necessary in this case.
Another obstacle is the legal understanding that no one can be the judge of their own case, which would make it impossible for Trump to forgive himself. Again, someone else should forgive him.
Finally, there is the principle that no one – not even the president – is above the law. If a president could commit crimes left and right and forgive himself, he would in practice be immune.
None of this, however, stops Trump from trying. There is no way to stop it. The only way would be to wait until he forgives himself and then take him to the investigation. It would be at this point that American justice could decide that self-forgiveness was not valid and reject it, setting a precedent.
“Basically, we won’t know what will happen until the case goes to the Supreme Court,” says Jonathan Hanson, political scientist and professor at the University of Michigan.
The court has a majority of conservative judges – three of whom are appointed by Trump. That doesn’t mean, however, that they’ll be of any use to you. “From the point of view of legal philosophy, many who interpret the law conservatively do not believe that the president has the power to forgive himself.”
The process, in this case, would be controversial and contaminate the start of the Biden government, preventing it from advancing its agenda. “We would be in a state of constant upheaval,” says Hanson.
The only thing that currently limits the actions of the US president is that, under the Constitution, he can only grant pardon in federal cases. So it wouldn’t affect affairs of state, like the Trump financial investigation in New York. In this he has no way of moving.
Even if Trump decides not to forgive himself, there is still the possibility that he will unleash a series of pardons on his family and others close to him, such as lawyer Rudolph Giuliani. Trump is hinting that he fears they may be investigated, but it’s unclear why. One possibility is that they will be charged with financial crimes, according to the American press.
These pardons would be nothing new. According to an investigation by Harvard law professor Jack Goldsmith, Trump has already granted 94 pardons or commutes. Of those 94, at least 86 of the beneficiaries had some sort of political or personal connection to the president.
In fact, in 2001 Democrat Bill Clinton forgave a number of people, including his half-brother Roger Clinton, who had been convicted of possession and trafficking of cocaine. Clinton also forgave Susan McDougal, who had been his business partner.
For Hanson, the excessive use of presidential pardons by former presidents – and mainly by Trump – gives strength to those who suggest the end of this mechanism.
“If you go back to when the Constitution gave that power to the president, the idea was that he could control the judiciary,” Hanson says. “But what we’re seeing today is something else. Forgiveness even before someone is charged with a crime. It’s executive excess. I’m ready to have this conversation. It would be complicated. to change the Constitution, but we must question the presidential pardon.