No, Trump Can’t Pardon Himself: What the Constitution and Precedent Say

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In an op-ed published in the New York Daily News, students Kelly Lin ’21 and Sarah McShane ’21 explore the history of the pardon power and discuss whether it would be constitutional for President Donald Trump to pardon himself.

The U.S. Constitution limits the pardon power in two ways: The president may not pardon in cases of impeachment and may only grant pardons for offenses against the United States. It doesn’t say anything about whether he can pardon himself. But the history of the pardon power and the overall context of the Constitution prevent him from exonerating himself as he leaves the Oval Office. Perhaps that is why none of his predecessors has ever attempted this brazenly self-interested act.

Trump might simplistically argue that the Constitution does not explicitly forbid him from pardoning himself, and, therefore, he has the authority to do it. If he did so, he would be going beyond the powers the Founders contemplated and would frustrate the constitutional framework that has held this country together for over two centuries.

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