Donald Trump recently admitted that he believed, along with his lawyer, Rudy Guliani, that he had the power to pardon himself, in relation to the Russian Inquiry which is currently being carried out by former head of the FBI James Comey, this has brought up the idea, if not the question of a President pardoning themselves and avoiding or evading legal trouble, could it be done?
Could a President, Prime Minister or Head of State avoid scandal or controversy by simply pardoning themselves, by removing the process or suggestion of being treated by the processes of the nation that it occurs in, could a President, as is being suggested; side-step, stonewall or suspend (for want of a better word) the Justice System?
Looking to the current example, Donald Trump is considering the idea of pardoning himself from the Russia Inquiry, which is being run to answer the question of whether there was unwarranted and unacceptable involvement from the Russian authorities in the U.S Presidential Election, which would suggest that the process, which is supposed to be impartial and chaste, was corrupted by outside influence.
So far, the Inquiry has been making headway towards eventually cross-examining, investigating and checking whether or not the President was aware, never mind if he was involved, in the apparent attempts by the Russian authorities to nudge the votes or election in Trump’s favour, never mind the question of whether he knowingly allowed this practise to go on.
To be honest, as an outsider looking in, I consider the notion of a President, the head of a country’s democratic, judicial and executive configuration, willing to pardon himself/themselves (whether this is legal, or even possible), to be wholly unacceptable, the legal process, not only in America but in many countries across the world, relies on the idea of ‘innocent until proven guilty’.
The meaning of this is that the judicial system goes into a case believing that a person has to be found to be culpable or responsible for criminal activity, not just that but rather essentially, that said belief has to be in such a way as to be considered beyond a reasonable doubt, so if a President were to pardon themselves, aren’t they really tearing apart the legal framework of the country they preside over.
What kind of a message does this idea, even the mere notion, never mind the thought process behind it, say to the citizens of the country, that the President is above suspicion and therefore the mere suggestion of it is unacceptable or inexcusable, that the Justice System, which in the case of America, has existed in one form or another, for over 300 years, should not or does not have any effect on the figure at the top of the Executive system?
If Donald Trump wishes to go down this road, there is only one example that exists, which wouldn’t really help his case in any way, that example is of course Richard Nixon, the President that resigned after the Watergate Scandal, however, this instance is really a precedent because of Gerald Ford, Nixon’s successor, who pardoned his predecessor, thereby failing the people of the country with the stroke of a pen.
For the notion of pardoning someone exists because they have either been proven to be falsely accused or wrongly convicted, not because the President is either desperate to move the subject and focus on (as it is believed Gerald Ford was) or because the President believes that they have this right, (as in the case of Donald Trump), to pardon yourself before the legal system has had its moment to shine a spotlight on you and determine whether or not an individual is guilty seems, to this spectator, to be inconceivable and rather irrational.
Consider for a moment what Pardoning would do in this instance, as it had done with Nixon, it prevents there being even the slightest suspicion either officially or even allegedly levelled at the
individual involved, allowing them to either be freed of any blame or to avoid liability for whatever the accusation or complaint is.
In the case of Nixon, it was to free him of blame for Watergate, in this current example, it would probably be to free Trump of any culpability with regards to Russian interference in the US Presidential Elections, though this would have two effects, both of which I will detail further into this essay, let me just say at this point, that the mere notion of pardoning before a crime is even suspected seems to be a little hasty.
In all honesty, to pardon an individual, especially if, (as Trump wishes to do), the person does this themselves, not only seems to cheat the Justice System of the country, in this case America, but it also seems to suggest that the President not only is beyond reproach but can also be made to seem like they are.
By simply signing a document which rips apart the idea of a fair trial, the President or the individual responsible seems to be remiss in their duty to serve the people, the electorate of their nation, moving the focus on might have been the reason for Ford’s decision but it did him no favours, as far as public opinion is concerned, so it can only be believed that such an act would cripple Trump’s popularity too.
Imagine if you were a person living in America, facing a criminal charge, you face the legal process, you are tried before a jury of your peers and you are then either found guilty or innocent, beyond a reasonable doubt, then say the jury finds you guilty and you go to prison.
Imagine then hearing that the President of the country, the figure that is sworn to uphold the freedoms of the country and to lead the nation into the future, then pardons themselves from facing a similar legal process, how would that make you feel, how would you feel about the President, better yet, how would you feel about the Presidency, or more specifically the idea of a Presidency, the office and responsibility that goes with this status?
To know that a person, someone you possibly voted for, is now able to dodge or to prevent the justice system that you were put through from trying them, how would that make you feel, then consider that the example I used before was not as, reportedly, straight forward as it appears.
For Nixon is believed to have been disturbed by the pardon that Ford granted him, because he wanted to face his peers, he wanted to fight his case, so really the example I used is not the greatest precedent as it not only wasn’t carried out by the sitting President at the time but it was also unwanted or unwelcome by the individual that received it.
Perhaps then there is no suitable or even discernible precedent for what Trump and his lawyer have suggested, making this external observer believe that perhaps it is unfounded and unthinkable for more than the reasons that I have stated previously, for when Nixon was granted the Pardon, whether or not he wanted it, the people, the citizens of the country didn’t feel it was the right thing to do and disliked not only Nixon but Ford for carrying out such an idea.
Not only this but because Nixon received the pardon, he could not be tried, by any legal means, in relation to his possible involvement or knowledge of the Watergate Scandal and the other issues that arose from this, so the pardon didn’t really help his case either, for now people believe he is responsible, however the Frost and Nixon interviews probably helped settle this matter in one way at least, as David Frost managed to get to the truth and get the former President to admit he had done wrong.
So, if Trump were to go down the route of pardoning himself, it would probably be more damaging, not only to his presidency but his character if he were to do so, rather than face the Russia Inquiry, for at least then he could fight his case, stand his ground and look Comey and his peers in the eye, rather
than avoiding the issue in one regard but forever being tainted by this notion because of it, pardoning himself would probably lead to Trump losing out in the long run.
It is a rather fascinating idea though, beyond whether or not it is both conscionable and legal, though you have to consider if the idea did exist, would Nixon have pardoned himself, would Clinton, if the suggestion of Pardoning themselves exists, would future Presidents do so, then, the question has to be, what would the consequences of such actions be, not only for the individuals themselves but also for the country, it’s legal and judicial system, as well as its executive structure?
On top of this, what would the confidence be like in the Administrative and Constitutional structures of America, if such actions were to be carried out, if they were even possible, what would this do to the USA in the long term, what would this do to any democratic nation or country in their future, if a leader decided that, because they were the Head of State or because they were the executive at the top of the pyramid, they could pardon themselves and wipe the slate clean?
Perhaps in the end it is down to more learned and informed individuals to debate the issue, I simply feel that, in all honesty, it would do far more damage than good to simply evade the systems and processes of a country just because you happen to be the leader of that nation, it would do incredible harm to the standing of not only the office that the individual holds at the time but also to the idea of democracy as a whole.
For if a President or leader feels that they are above the law, then why are they leaders, democracy has it that the people, the electorate are in charge, but if a figure such as Trump were to go ahead and pardon himself it would cripple the idea of democracy, tarnish the Presidency for the future and leave us all questioning why the leader of a nation, especially one as egalitarian as America, would ignore the procedures that the country contains, in order to move the focus away from the suspicion?
This has been an essay on the notion of a President pardoning themselves and the effect this could possibly have on the country they govern, not only at the present time but in the future too.