A U.S. president, steals money from the public treasury—millions of dollars. When the details of the theft become public, he resigns from office. People cry for prosecution. Problem is, prior to resigning, he issued a presidential pardon to himself.
Would the president, in this case, have effectively gotten away with it? I understand that he cannot pardon for offenses that haven’t taken place yet: a pardon is a forgiveness, not a suspension of the law.
So the questions:
#1. Can he pardon himself?
#2. Is a presidential pardon valid prior to a court actually finding someone guilty, so long as it is after the actual commission of the offense?
The Constitution says that the President cannot pardon in a case of impeachment, so that provides some guidance. Nixon considered pardoning himself, but decided that either it wouldn’t be accepted, or that it was too much of a risk to try. Instead, Johnson pardoned Nixon as soon as he succeeded (which was still before Nixon had ever been actually convicted for anything).
So basically, the question isn’t yet resolved, but politically speaking, probably not.
The answer to #2 is presumably yes. Gerald Ford Pardoned Nixon for any role in Watergate before Nixon was even indicted. (I’m not saying he wold have been, just that it certainly can be done before a finding of guilt). There are other similar pre-conviction indictments, but this one seems most relevant to the question.
But isn’t an impeachment a proceeding to kick someone out of office? If they have already resigned, I don’t think an impeachment is legally meaningful. For example, can Congress retroactively impeach Bush Jr., or maybe even Warren Harding (post facto and post mortem)?
In terms of granting a pardon before conviction, didn’t Carter grant pardons to most Vietnam era draft dodgers?
Impeachment isn’t really a criminal proceeding, despite the legal trappings and the terminology. It’s an elaborate HR procedure. That’s probably why the pardon power doesn’t apply. A President who was impeached wouldn’t have to go to jail–not because of the impeachent, anyway.
OK, so it sounds like the Prez needs to cut the Veep in on the loot. The President arranges to steal all the gold in Fort Knox–or maybe a simple wire transfer from the Fed to a couple of bank accounts someplace might be easier–then pardons the Vice President for his role in the caper. Then the President resigns, the Vice President takes the oath of office and immediately pardons the ex-President, then he resigns and they each find a nice tropical island someplace.
I think that is instructive, but how so? It’s clear that the founders didn’t want a President on trial in the Senate for high crimes and misdemeanors, but be able to say, “But I pardon myself, so under the Constitution you can’t remove me from office! Neener, neener, neener!”
It’s also clear (and I’m too tired for the cite) that impeachment only extends to removal from office or a declaration that a person cannot ever again hold an office of profit or trust of the United States. So that still leaves the question:
If the pardon power does not apply in case of impeachment, does that mean it applies to every other punishment except removal from office or future holding of office? (So a President COULD keep himself out of jail) Or does it lead to a prohibition on a pardon from any crime stemming from the impeachment? (So he could NOT keep himself out of jail.)?
This was discussed when William Belknap was being impeached. It was determined that since conviction could carry with it a ban from holding office ever again that it is appropriate to impeach someone after they resigned. The Senate traditionally has declined to convict someone who has resigned but the issue did come with Alcee Hasting’s trial. Interestingly the Senate declined to pursue this
option and he later became a Florida representative in the House.
There was speculation at the time that Bill Clinton might pardon himself for Lewinskygate, but not tell anyone (or have just a single trusted witness, sworn to secrecy, to confirm that he’d done so while still in office) to avoid what would surely be a firestorm of public outrage at such a move.
The President pardoning himself would be within the letter but, I suggest, not the spirit of the Constitution.