President George W. Bush’s ethics lawyer, Richard Painter, didn’t pull any punches on MSNBC’s “11th Hour with Brian Williams” Friday. He suggested that President Donald Trump simply move in with Russian President Vladimir Putin before trying to pardon himself.
Citing a recent op-ed from Painter, Williams wondered if Trump could legally pardon himself. There were reports late Thursday that Trump was asking his attorneys about pardons for his family and staff if it came to that. Painter’s op-ed outlines that the Constitution does not allow for the president to do it.
“I would think that innocent people would not be thinking about who could pardon them,” Painter judged. “And we are in an extraordinary situation here. I’ve got to say, first, with respect to the attorney general, I mean either he has been lying about his relationship with the Russians and what he talked with the Russians about, flat out lying or he is being framed by somebody who is leaking this information, false information to the Washington Post in order to get him fired.”
Painter isn’t the first to wonder if someone within the White House leaked the news about Sessions to give Trump a reason to fire the attorney general. Republican leaders attending the Aspen Security Forum assumed that Trump intentionally leaked the story to get rid of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Watergate investigative journalist Carl Bernstein agreed.
“He wants this investigation stopped,” Bernstein told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
“We know the president wants to replace a lot of the top management in the Justice Department in order to derail the Mueller investigation,” Painter continued. “And so I’m very, very worried about this situation.”
Painter noted that he wrote the op-ed before the recent news about Sessions.
“Because President Trump apparently had already contacted a number of people looking into the question of pardons and whether he could pardon himself,” Painter continued. “The questions are being asked in the White House, and the answer is categorically no.”
He went on to say that there were no examples in history that he could find in which a leader was able to pardon himself and avoid prosecution. That includes monarchies.
“Many deposed kings have gone to the chopping block and would have avoided that if they would have been able to pardon themselves,” Painter noted. “Even The Pope says his confession to another priest, Pope Frances did so quite recently in public. Not a single example of a self-pardon anywhere that I can find.”
He also slammed the idea of making zero sense as a legal strategy.
“The office of legal counsel advised in the Nixon administration years that you could not do that,” Painter went on. “The president could not do that. So, that’s off the table. He should look into other options. You know maybe — I don’t know, go join Mr. Snowden over in Moscow or something, but the self-pardon is not going to work.”
Watch the full discussion below: