President Donald Trump has declared that he has the “absolute right” to issue a pardon to himself. The law is much murkier than his confidence suggests, the Associated Press reports. No president has attempted to pardon himself while in office. If Trump tries to do so in the next six weeks, he will be venturing into legally untested territory. Legal experts are divided on a ambiguous question that was left vague by the Founding Fathers and has never had to be definitively resolved in court. “It’s impossible to anticipate every factual scenario that could come up under a legal provision. This is why we have the courts,” said University of Baltimore law Prof. Kimberly Wehle. Talk of a potential pardon comes with Trump facing several investigations, including New York State inquiries into whether he misled tax authorities, banks or business partners.
In favor of a self-pardon is the broad power the Constitution affords a president when it comes to issuing clemency for federal crimes and the absence of any law that explicitly prohibits such an act. Some scholars say a self-pardon collides with fundamental principles of law. The Constitution’s text — affording the president “power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment” — suggests that the Founding Fathers envisioned some limitations on a president’s pardon power. It could also mean the power is to be used on someone else, not yourself. “You could say, implicit in the definition of a pardon or implicit in the notion of granting a pardon — because the Constitution uses the word ‘grant’ — is that it’s two separate people,” said Brian Kalt, a law professor at Michigan State University. “You can’t grant something to yourself. You can’t pardon yourself.”