“If the president … participates in a crime personally,” constitutional scholar Cass Sunstein tells NPR, “and then exercises the pardon power so as to shelter the people who engaged in those crimes … That is an impeachable offense.”
President Trump’s rage over the first indictments in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe provoked speculation that he might seek to abort the investigation by firing Mueller or pardoning defendant Paul Manafort and others as a way of choking off the probe. When a reporter asked if the president would pardon Manafort, Trump said, “Thank you,” ignoring the question entirely. Can serial pardons be a basis for impeachment? NPR explores this question.
The Constitution gives the president the broad power to grant pardons “for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.” That means he can pardon anyone charged with a federal crime and he can’t prevent his own impeachment by pardoning himself. Trump could pardon any of the individuals under scrutiny in the Mueller Russia probe, and that would deprive the special counsel of his leverage, his ability to pressure witnesses to get at the truth. Constitutional scholar Cass Sunstein, author of a new book on impeachment, notes that the Framers of the Constitution discussed whether abuse of the pardon power would be an impeachable offense and James Madison explicitly said it would be. “If the president … participates in a crime personally,” Sunstein says, “and then exercises the pardon power so as to shelter the people who engaged in those crimes … That is an impeachable offense.”