Donald Trump: I have ‘complete power to pardon’

Tweet follows newspaper report that president has examined powers to pardon aides, family members and himself

President Donald Trump participates in the commissioning ceremony of an aircraft carrier in Norfolk, Virginia. Photograph: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

President Donald Trump participates in the commissioning ceremony of an aircraft carrier in Norfolk, Virginia. Photograph: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

 

US president Donald Trump has declared he has “complete power to pardon,” as his administration confronts ongoing investigations of possible ties between his 2016 campaign and Russia.

In a series of Twitter messages on Saturday, Mr Trump aired renewed frustration with his attorney general, the special counsel leading the Russia investigation, and Republicans in Congress who are struggling to advance his legislative agenda.

But Mr Trump’s comment about pardons, tucked into an attack on the media, raised the possibility that he was considering his options if the investigations do not turn out the way he hopes.

Mr Trump did not specify who, if anyone, he might consider pardoning. His tweets appeared to be written in response to a report by the Washington Post this week that Mr Trump and his legal team have examined presidential powers to pardon Trump aides, family members and possibly even himself.

“While all agree the U.S. President has the complete power to pardon, why think of that when only crime so far is LEAKS against us. FAKE NEWS,” Trump wrote.

The Washington Post, citing current and former US officials, reported on Friday that Russia’s ambassador to the United States was overheard by US spy agencies telling his bosses that he had discussed campaign-related matters with Trump adviser Jeff Sessions last year, when Mr Sessions was a U.S. senator.

Mr Sessions now leads the Justice Department as Trump’s attorney general.

“These illegal leaks . . . must stop,” Trump tweeted.

At the Senate confirmation hearings for his Cabinet position, Mr Sessions initially failed to disclose his 2016 contacts with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak and later said they were not about the campaign.

In March, Mr Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation.

During an interview with the New York Times this week, Mr Trump criticised Mr Sessions, saying he would not have chosen him for attorney general had he known Mr Sessions would recuse himself.

Mr Trump, who defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in last year’s presidential election but continues to use her as a foil, questioned why Mr Sessions and special counsel Robert Mueller were not investigating former FBI director James Comey or Mrs Clinton, for her email practices as secretary of state.

“So many people are asking why isn’t the A.G. or Special Counsel looking at the many Hillary Clinton or Comey crimes. 33,000 emails deleted...,” he tweeted.

Scholars have raised questions about the scope of the president’s legal authority in issuing pardons. If Mr Trump moved to pardon himself sometime in the future, the US Supreme Court might have to decide on the constitutionality, some have speculated. [

Mr Trump has not been accused of any wrongdoing by federal investigators who are examining alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.

Mr Mueller is looking into any relationships or contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russians during the election. Congressional committees also are exploring Russia’s influence on the US election.

Congressional leaders have reached an agreement on sweeping sanctions legislation to punish Russia for its election meddling and aggression toward its neighbours, defying the White House’s argument that Mr Trump needs flexibility to adjust the sanctions to fit his diplomatic initiatives with Moscow.

The new legislation would sharply limit the president’s ability to suspend or terminate the sanctions.

Mr Trump could soon face a decision he hoped to avoid: Veto the bill - a move that would fuel accusations that he is doing the bidding of President Vladimir Putin of Russia - or sign legislation imposing sanctions his administration has opposed.

The bill aims to punish Russia not only for interference in the election but also for its annexation of Crimea, continuing military activity in eastern Ukraine and human rights abuses. Proponents of the measure seek to impose sanctions on people involved in human rights abuses, suppliers of weapons to the government of President Bashar Assad in Syria and those undermining cybersecurity, among others.

Mr Trump travelled on Saturday to Norfolk, Virginia, where he spoke at a commissioning ceremony for the aircraft carrier the USS Gerald R. Ford, named for the Republican president who held the White House from 1974-1977.

In his remarks, Trump made no mention of the Russia controversy, focusing his speech on the need for more robust US military spending.

Reuters