MSNBC's Rachel Maddow details exactly how Trump's flagrant use of pardons may be 'criminal obstruction of justice'
Rachel Maddow compares Donald Trump to George Wallace on Jan. 5, 2016. (MSNBC)

President Donald Trump's pardoning of Dinesh D'Souza on Thursday looked to many observers like a flagrant attempt to send a signal to his associates implicated in the Russia investigation that he is willing to pardon them, too, in an effort to keep them from cooperating with prosecutors. But as MSNBC's Rachel Maddow explained, if Trump really is using the pardon power in this way, it could place him in serious legal jeopardy.

The problem is that, as even the President Richard Nixon's White House seemed to acknowledge, the pardon power cannot be used to hinder or undermine investigations that might affect the president personally, Maddow explained.

"Yesterday, we found out that the prosecution of the president's longtime personal lawyer is going ahead in the Southern District of New York, today the president issued a full pardon to this guy who was convicted by prosecutors in the Southern District of New York," she said. "The president also decided today to dangle the prospect of a whole bunch of other pardons for other people you might have heard of."

She continued: "Psychologically, the president has started using the pardon power in a way that is designed to showcase his own power to arbitrarily pardon whoever he wants, outside any system. To act on a whim, to do it whenever he feels like it."

Given that the use of a pardon could technically become a part of an obstruction of justice case against the president and was even cited after Nixon resigned as a potential topic for a fourth article of impeachment against the disgraced president, this attitude toward the pardon power is highly suspicious.

Maddow even played a tape in which Nixon can be heard talking about a possible use of the pardon that his Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman told him he shouldn't even mention because it could implicate that president in "criminal obstruction of justice."

"The problem is, even for presidents of the United States, even with a presidential power as broad as the pardon power, you can't just do it for anybody in any circumstances," Maddow said. "Not in the case of a Bob Haldeman, you couldn't. At least that's what they thought during Watergate. And if you couldn't with Bob Haldeman, why would anybody think you could do this with Michael Cohen?"

Watch the clip below: