As is well known, Trump and his political and campaigning team are under investigation by the FBI. Dozens of people have been indicted so far and five have pled guilty. As the investigation continues, one of the big questions is whether anyone will testify that Trump has committed a crime and/or colluded with the Russians.

Surrounding all this is Trump’s power to pardon whoever he wants at any time. In particular, Manafort for example is accused in the press of lying to the FBI in order to secure a pardon from Trump. In general, if Trump is guilty, anyone interviewed by the FBI who themselves has committed a crime is highly incentivised to lie knowing if they testify against Trump he will not pardon them.

In this context, it is mystifying at least to me why the US population supports the President’s pardon powers in cases that involve the President themself being investigated. This seems to be an obvious route to corruption at the highest level. It also would not be the first time a US president has been found to be corrupt.

Given all this, what is the politics that makes the US population support this ongoing power for the President?

  • Note that the President can only pardon federal crimes. – Martin Schröder Dec 1 at 12:23
  • Question is filled with opinion and false innuendo. There is speculation but it is not a fact that the president is under investigation for any crime. Collusion even if true is not a crime. There is talk about obstruction of justice but that has actually not been investigated at all. All the indictments are for process crimes, none involve the president nor is it true that Manafort plead guilty to lying to protect the president. He plead guilty to a fact that Mueller already knew about, So voting to close as opinion based – Frank Cedeno Dec 1 at 21:18
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    @Frank Cedneno - The QUESTION (stated in the last paragraph) contains no opinion or false innuendo. The discussion leading up to the question may be provocative, but the question itself is not. – BobE Dec 2 at 4:02
  • I think you need to support your claim that the US population (or a majority thereof) would in fact support pardons if the President granting them was obviously using them to shield himself from criminal investigation. The power of the pardon is defined by the Constitution, which most support, but AFAIK the authors did not envision a President using it to shield himself, and AFAIK no President (not even Nixon) ever has. My own opinion is that if Trump actually did so, there'd be a swift call to amend the Constitution. – jamesqf Dec 2 at 4:25
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    @BobE: Looking at the Wikipedia article on those pardons & commutations… 7 of the 8 (I know nothing about Rubashkin) about seem to have benefit to Trump. Either he pleases part of his electoral base (Arpaio, the Hammonds, &c), pleases a pressure group at no cost to himself (Johnson - and what the heck is the point of pardoning a dead person?), or he gets persuaded in a meeting with an attractive (to some, anyway) woman. – jamesqf Dec 3 at 17:55

Consider why there is a pardon power. One could see it as an anachronistic holdover from feudal times, but a properly designed pardon power is a safeguard against situations where the letter of the law fails a specific accused.

  • It could be that the accused is technically guilty, but the law gives disproportionate minimum sentences. One example would be cancer patients in chronic pain who buy large quantities of illegal drugs. They are not dealers, but the law sends them behind bars for decades.
  • It could be that objectively there is doubt about the guilt, but for technical reasons no appeal is possible. An example would be if DNA evidence pointing to a new suspect shows up after all appeals for the trial are exhausted.

To become such a last resort, pardon powers have to be sweeping. The safeguard is political scrutiny on the few senior officials who have this power. (Who that is differs. In the UK it is technically still the queen, for instance, even if she delegates it.)

It becomes a problem when someone close to the President is accused of a crime and the President's Party lacks the integrity to make it crystal clear that they'd vote for impeachment if any pardons are granted. That's not a failure of the pardon process, it is a failure of the political process as a whole.

  • There are no pardons in the UK as far as I know. – Anush Dec 1 at 11:55
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    @Anush, not commonly used but still there. – o.m. Dec 1 at 11:58
  • Thank you for this answer. I still don’t understand why people would allow the president to pardon people he is in a conspiracy with. This seems a fundamental flaw in the constitution that is easily remedied by removing pardon powers for those investigated by a special counsel, for example. – Anush Dec 1 at 17:03
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    @FrankCedeno, I understood the question was not about US Constitutional law as it is today but about why it should be as it is today. And surely you agree that there could have been a constitution without the pardon power, or without presidential immunity (even if the latter brings separation-of-powers concerns). – o.m. Dec 2 at 5:59
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    @Anush: The US Constitution is not easily changed. It takes either a Constitutional Convention (which has never happened since the first), or a 2/3 majority of both houses of Congress, then ratification by the legislatures of 3/4 of the states. This can take quite some time. (The 27th Amendment took a bit over 200 years to be ratified :-)) It'd be much easier just to impeach & convict a President who misuses the power. – jamesqf Dec 2 at 17:43

The US Constitution (generally supported by the US population) states (boldface added):

The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States,... and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.

That is the simplest and straight-forward answer to your question.

As you did NOT ask why this is in the US Constitution, there is no reason to try to speculate on the "why".

(Boldface emphasis added by user agc; not in original document)

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    Regarding the last paragraph, I thought he asked exactly that. – o.m. Dec 2 at 6:00
  • My question is why there isn’t a popular move to amend the constitution, given the obvious conflict it brings for the Mueller investigation. – Anush Dec 2 at 7:50
  • @anush -Respectfully, the only sentence that ends with a question mark is your last sentence. You presented no question about a popular move to amend. Furthermore a question of such nature is soliciting rank speculation, and as such, is off-topic. – BobE Dec 2 at 15:29
  • @BobE Surprisingly, I agree :) – Anush Dec 2 at 22:03

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