In theory, President Donald Trump could try to shut down the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign by preemptively pardoning every member of his campaign team implicated in possible collusion.
However, multiple legal experts tell Vox that such a strategy would be the “stupidest” course of action that he’s taken so far, as it would rip down key legal barriers that are protecting the president and his team during the investigation.
“If President Trump pardons subjects of Mueller’s investigation, they will be unable to claim their Fifth Amendment rights if they are asked to testify under oath,” explains Asha Rangappa, an associate dean at Yale Law School. “In theory, this would then facilitate Mueller’s investigation, as these individuals would have to tell Mueller everything they know.”
“If the President pardons anyone involved in the Russian investigation, it may prove to be one of the stupidest things he has yet done,” says Georgetown University law professor Julie O’Sullivan. “If — and this is a big if — the president is shown to have pardoned them to avoid his own personal exposure in the Russia investigation, that in and of itself could constitute obstruction of justice.”
However, one expert tells Vox that Trump does have a way to pardon people involved in the investigation while still escaping legal consequences — but it involves him stepping down and relying on new President Mike Pence to pardon him.
“Trump pardons them as he is exiting the White House and Trump exits early, allowing Pence to become president, and Pence then pardons Trump,” explains Georgetown University law professor Susan Bloch. “Trump will then have successfully shielded himself and his colleagues from criminal liability.”