You should note today's date somewhere. Send an email to yourself, post something on your Facebook wall, do whatever you need to do to make sure you remember June 4, 2018.
It was almost two years ago, in July of 2016, when we first heard that Russia was behind the hacking of the DNC with the likely beneficiary being Donald Trump. When the news dropped I, along with my friend and podcast partner Chez Pazienza announced that the Russian attack was the biggest story of 2016. Today, following an endless series of horrible details about that hacking, we've arrived at yet another story that rises above the rest in terms of both urgency, importance and existential danger.
Today, June 4, the president announced that he retains the "absolute right" to pardon himself.
If Trump seriously believes his own bullshit, this is perhaps the most egregious non-wartime trespass against constitutional executive authority in the history of the presidency. What he's saying here is that he can break literally any law and then immediately pardon himself, should the Justice Department or Congress, for that matter, attempt to prosecute him. Sure, as Rudy Giuliani said, Trump could've shot James Comey in the head and pardoned himself for doing it. He could raid the Treasury and shove millions into his personal bank account, then pardon himself (I would argue he's already stealing taxpayer money to enrich himself). He could shut down the Mueller investigation then order the military to arrest alleged "deep state conspirators" inside the DOJ, then pardon himself.
Of course, he can't pardon himself -- easily. If he tries, I'm fairly certain the outcry would be immediate and loud, with or without the participation of the congressional Republicans. The Justice Department's office of legal counsel:
Date of Issuance: Monday, August 5, 1974 Headnotes: Under the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case, the President cannot pardon himself. If under the Twenty-Fifth Amendment the President declared that he was temporarily unable to perform the duties of the office, the Vice President would become Acting President and as such could pardon the President. Thereafter the President could either resign or resume the duties of his office. Although as a general matter Congress cannot enact amnesty or pardoning legislation, because to do so would interfere with the pardoning power vested expressly in the President by the Constitution, it could be argued that a congressional pardon granted to the President would not interfere with the President’s pardoning power because that power does not extend to the President himself.
The president can't pardon himself unless he first resigns from office. That said, per the 25th Amendment, Trump could sign a letter of resignation and draft a second letter reinstating himself, Pence could take the oath, Pence could pardon Trump, then Pence and Trump could sign the second letter reinstating Trump. It could be done swiftly and quietly between other meetings. A similar switcheroo was used as a plot device at the end of season four of The West Wing, but it was a situation in which the president couldn't objectively deal with the kidnapping of his daughter by militants. It's not difficult to envision Trump using the same process to exonerate himself from the Russia investigation and much more, provided Pence was into it and there's no reason to believe he wouldn't be. Back to the Republicans. I'd like to think the congressional GOP would finally grow a spine and stand up to a president who's very obviously grabbing significantly more power than was intended by the Framers. But at this point, it doesn't look likely unless the Democrats were to win majorities in both chambers this November. Meanwhile, though, what sort of devilry could Trump manifest? Use your imagination. He's capable of almost anything. Indeed, he could get away with a lot before the Supreme Court would -- maybe, kinda' -- rescind his self-pardon. Trump believes he owns this power and he's displayed zero restraint so far, why would he suddenly discover prudence now? This is real. Trump thinks he's immune from the law. Write down the date. Seriously. This is when everything could begin to fall apart.