Donald Trump’s legal team is, predictably, looking for ways to push back against the Mueller investigation into Trump World and undermine its credibility. It’s a strategy straight from the playbook of former President Clinton, who launched withering attacks on independent prosecutor Kenneth Starr during the 1990s, branding him partisan and biased in an attempt to turn public opinion against Starr’s aggressive broadening of what started as an investigation into land development deals that came to be known as Whitewater and ended with Monica Lewinsky and impeachment. But, along with pursuing perceived conflicts of interest on Mueller’s team as a means to knock the probe off course, according to the Washington Post, Trump himself has asked his legal team about his own power to pardon not just aides and family members, but also himself.
From the Post:
Currently, the discussions of pardoning authority by Trump’s legal team is purely theoretical, according to two people familiar with the ongoing conversations. But if Trump pardoned himself in the face of the ongoing Mueller investigation, it would set off a legal and political firestorm, first around the question of whether a president can use the constitutional pardon power in that way.
The power to pardon is granted to the president in Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution, which gives the commander in chief the power to “grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.” That means pardon authority extends to federal criminal prosecution but not to state level or impeachment inquiries. No president has sought to pardon himself, so no courts have reviewed it.
This is the first explicit mention of Trump’s pardoning capacity and it should be noted it comes just days before Jared Kushner is set to testify before a closed-door session of the Senate Intelligence Committee, as well as the scheduled appearances of Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort.
In addition to floating the possibility of pardoning, the Trump legal team is reportedly building its case for firing Special Counsel Mueller or prompting him to recuse himself, according to the New York Times. Trump has expressed anger at the widening nature of the Russia probe to include his financial dealings that might include his tax returns. Trump’s lawyers are on the lookout for ways to keep the investigation as circumscribed as possible and conflicting out lawyers that have joined Mueller’s investigation for potential bias is one strategy the White House and Trump allies have employed. One of the more surreal claims of potential bias being looked at by the White House is how Mueller’s tenure as a member at one of Trump’s golf courses came to an end. “[A] potential conflict claim is an allegation that Mueller and Trump National Golf Club in Northern Virginia had a dispute over membership fees when Mueller resigned as a member in 2011, two White House advisers said,” according to the Post. “A spokesman for Mueller said there was no dispute when Mueller, who was FBI director at the time, left the club.”