TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — I Beg Your Pardon!

Every presidency ought to have a theme song. For POTUS 45 and his cohorts, it should be “I Beg Your Pardon.”

There’s a lot of loose talk about what a president can and cannot do in the area of pardons, so I did a little research on the subject. My results are drawn from multiple sources, all qualified. If I were to annotate each source, I’d exceed my column’s length parameters, so … trust me on this.

Shortly before President Nixon resigned from office in 1974, the Office of Legal Counsel within the Department of Justice issued an opinion in which they cautioned that “no one may be a judge in his own case.” This is also a principle of so-called “natural law,” meaning that the president cannot pardon himself.

In the case of a self-pardon, ultimately the U.S/ Supreme Court would have to come to its own conclusion on whether the courts should accept such a pardon as constitutionally valid. There would really be no option but to reach an independent judgment on that question and not simply defer to the judgment made by the president.

A president cannot use the pardon power to immunize himself from impeachment or from prosecution by one or more of the 50 states. Were a president to pardon himself, this would surely trigger prosecution within the states (e.g. for fraud, tax evasion, money laundering and so on). Because a pardon would be admissible as evidence of guilt, this would not be a wise decision.

Based on this reasoning, the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel wrote in 1974 “Under the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case, the President cannot pardon himself.”

Days later, President Nixon chose to extricate himself from scandal — not by self-pardon but rather by resignation from office. President Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon after he had resigned. Logic would say this should put an end to the discussion— but it does not.

It can be suggested that President Ford’s pardon of Nixon did end his own political future, as he was defeated in his run for a full term in the first election after Nixon’s resignation.

Impeachment may seem like an adequate deterrent. But because removal from office requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate, presidents normally don’t need to worry about it. It’s possible that a judge would rule that even if a self-pardon would relieve the president of liability for a crime, the act of self-pardoning is itself a crime, obstruction of justice and would independently create criminal liability.

There are two or more potential checks on the pardoning power. First, the Constitution specifically rules out the possibility of pardoning someone for impeachable offenses. Congress could certainly regard an “abuse” of the pardoning power as an impeachable offense, in and of itself, even if one concludes such a pardon would be regarded as legally valid.

Of course, presidents can deceive themselves into thinking that their bad acts are justified for the common good. But the point of the power to pardon is to bestow mercy on another, not to enrich oneself.

President 45’s interest on the scope of the president’s power to pardon demonstrates that he is conscious of guilt. Only if 45 believes that he may be guilty of a crime would he be interested in pardoning himself. This is not the behavior of an innocent man. The same would hold true when he seeks pardon authority for his children and others in his administration.

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One has to wonder when this man actually sleeps. He has meetings all day … when he’s not playing golf … and tweets all night. He who complained about President Obama’s vacations, golf and use of Air Force One for vacation travel has in the first short months of his term exceeded Obama’s whole four years in office.

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Our Denier in Chief does not believe in climate change — notwithstanding the countless educated voices that affirm its existence. That denial allows 45 to write executive orders (which he refers to as “bills,” though they are not) to allow Big Oil to dump waste into our clean waters and allows them to try to intimidate the Native nations, a war that in the long run the Natives will win.

We don’t know if 45 and his gang sleep with the Russians, if he is indebted to the Russians or if the Russians have tapes of El Dumbo doing naughty things. With the exception of the naughty things, 45 could put to rest many of the allegations flying around him and his administration quite easily. All he would have to do is release all of his tax returns.

President 45 and the echo chambers that surround him are the only ones who still claim he is a sharp businessman. His many trips to the bankruptcy courts suggest otherwise, as do the thousands of current lawsuits filed against him and his corporations.

Donald J. Trump holds his own interests and those of his family as his primary concerns. Yet he was elected to be the voice of the American People. The lies he told to get elected— now confirmed as lies — seem to have had little impact on his base.

It makes no difference to me what your political views are; we all have our own. What matters most is that I simply cannot tolerate a serial liar in any capacity or position. We’ve had presidents with flaws, as all of us do — but 45 is in a category all his own. While I wish all of our presidents success, in his case, it simply won’t happen.

Keep watching Special Counsel Robert Mueller. He’s the key to putting this national shame in proper perspective.

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Last but not least, you may have missed the administration’s ballyhooed “Made in America” push a week or so ago. Right up front was Ivanka Trump … all of whose products are manufactured in foreign countries by underpaid employees.

We, the American people of all parties, might be willing to grant our own pardon to 45 and his entire kleptomaniac klan … if they will only just resign and move in with their Russian friends. Amen.

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Tom Davies

Judge Tom Davies wielded the gavel in Fargo's Municipal Court for nearly 40 years, the longest term of any elected official in the city's history, until health problems forced his retirement in 2012. Born in Grand Forks, the UND business and law graduate has lived in Fargo since 1956, when his father, Ronald Davies, was appointed a federal judge. The outspoken, irreverent jurist remains an insatiable consumer of news, sharing his observations in Moorhead's weekly newspaper, The Extra … and now here on the Fish blog. As a child, Davies delivered the Grand Forks Herald and sold them on the street corner.

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