'Out and out political warfare': Trump claims 'complete power to pardon' amid the White House's escalating war on Russia investigation

  • President Donald Trump pointed out that he has the "complete power" to grant pardons on Saturday.
  • Trump's assertion came amid reports that he was exploring the possibility of pardoning himself.
  • The Trump administration has also begun ramping up its efforts to discredit special counsel Mueller's investigation.

President Donald Trump pointed out his "complete power to pardon" individuals convicted of wrongdoing in his capacity as president on Saturday.

"While all agree the U. S. President has the completely power to pardon, why think of that when only crime so far is LEAKS against us.FAKE NEWS," Trump tweeted.

Trump's tweet came on the heels of a Washington Post report that said the president and his legal team were looking into the limits of his pardoning power, and that Trump had reportedly raised the question of whether he could pardon himself as congressional investigations and special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia widen in scope.

There is no constitutional precedent addressing whether a president can pardon himself, but legal experts said that if Trump did use his pardoning power in that way, it would prompt a legal and political firestorm.

"This is a fiercely debated but unresolved legal question," Brian C. Kalt, a constitutional law expert at Michigan State University who has written extensively on the question, told The Post. "There is no predicting what would happen," Kalt said, adding that if Trump did seek to pardon himself, the issue would likely go all the way up to the Supreme Court.

Louis Seidman, a constitutional-law expert and professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, told Business Insider on Friday that whether Trump can pardon himself is "very questionable" as "a matter of constitutional morality."

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Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions (R) joins President Donald Trump (L) for an opioid and drug abuse listening session at the White House in Washington, U.S. March 29, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
President Donald Trump speaks with Attorney General Jeff Sessions as they attend the National Peace Officers Memorial Service on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., May 15, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions speaks next to U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at a rally at Madison City Schools Stadium in Madison, Alabama February 28, 2016. REUTERS/Marvin Gentry
U.S. President Donald Trump watches as Vice President Mike Pence (R) swears in Jeff Sessions (L) as U.S. Attorney General while his wife Mary Sessions holds the Bible in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington February 9, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 28: Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., left, endorses Donald Trump to be the Republican nominee for president during a campaign rally at Madison City Schools Stadium in Madison, Ala., February 28, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
U.S. President Donald Trump congratulates Jeff Sessions after he was sworn in as U.S. Attorney General as his wife Mary Sessions looks on during a ceremony in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., February 9, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump sits with U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) (L) and retired U.S. Army General Keith Kellogg (R) during a national security meeting with advisors at Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York, U.S., October 7, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a swearing-in ceremony for new Attorney General Jeff Sessions (R) at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 9, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Under a portrait of former President Andrew Jackson, U.S. President Donald Trump (L) congratulates Jeff Sessions after he was sworn in as U.S. Attorney General during a ceremony in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., February 9, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
President Donald Trump reaches out toward Attorney General Jeff Sessions as they attend the National Peace Officers Memorial Service on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., May 15, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
US President-elect Donald Trump (C) talks with Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (2nd L) and US Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions (L) as he arrives in Mobile, Alabama, for a 'Thank You Tour 2016' rally on December 17, 2016. / AFP / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
MOBILE, AL - DECEMBER 17: President-elect Donald Trump greets Senator Jeff Sessions, Trump's picks for attorney general, during a thank you rally in Ladd-Peebles Stadium on December 17, 2016 in Mobile, Alabama. President-elect Trump has been visiting several states that he won, to thank people for their support during the U.S. election. (Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump watches as Vice President Mike Pence (R) swears in Jeff Sessions (L) as U.S. Attorney General while his wife Mary Sessions holds the Bible in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., February 9, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
MOBILE, AL- AUGUST 21: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump introduces Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions (R) Mobile during his rally at Ladd-Peebles Stadium on August 21, 2015 in Mobile, Alabama. The Donald Trump campaign moved tonight's rally to a larger stadium to accommodate demand. (Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump congratulates Jeff Sessions after he was sworn in as U.S. Attorney General as his wife Mary Sessions looks on during a ceremony in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., February 9, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
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Seidman said the real question was why Trump would even need to pardon himself, given the protection from prosecution his office affords him and the unlikelihood that he would be charged after leaving office.

"The more serious threat is that Trump would either pardon everyone else or fire Mueller," Seidman said. "My own sense, for what it's worth, is that this outcome is very likely."

But firing Mueller or issuing pardons "would be certain to ignite the kind of political firestorm that we haven't seen since the Saturday Night Massacre," he said, and Trump's political opponents would undoubtedly paint it as obstruction of justice.

Indeed, it appears that Trump and his allies are ramping up their war on Mueller and planting seeds aimed at discrediting his investigation, possibly setting up a scenario in which Trump could fire the special counsel.

On Friday, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told "Fox & Friends" that she thought it was important for the American people to know about Mueller's team's potential conflicts of interest while they investigate Trump and his associates.

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Reaction to Robert Mueller's appointment to Russia investigation
Trump statement https://t.co/uXbFDYpIqP
My statement on DAG Rosenstein's decisions to appoint a special counsel https://t.co/s7i5LjPcg1
.@SpeakerRyan Statement on the Appointment of Special Counsel https://t.co/YhKhf5YVcV
Appointment of special counsel is very positive. Mueller is a solid choice who will help reestablish public confide… https://t.co/IJnOCOnZIw
Robert Mueller’s appointment is a positive step. I am hopeful that he will help us get to the bottom of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.
A special counsel is very much needed in this situation and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein has done the right thing.
(1/2) I support the appointment of Bob Mueller as special counsel for the Russia investigation. https://t.co/AUVNzmzUk6
(2/2) Bob Mueller was a great U.S. attorney & FBI director. He’s respected, talented and has the knowledge & ability to do the right thing.
Having known him for years, I believe special counsel Mueller is a very good thing. He is one of the best -- indepe… https://t.co/IUnElVxegr
Mueller is a great selection. Impeccable credentials. Should be widely accepted.
Former Attorney General Eric Holder on appointment of Robert Mueller as Special Counsel in Trump/Russia affair: https://t.co/Sowez3yFyl
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Mueller is a good first step -- but can't take the place of an independent commission free from Trump's meddling. https://t.co/Dv6m4eC7xw
I commend @TheJusticeDept for taking the appropriate step of appointing a special counsel. https://t.co/tBgRzNrMGO
Robert Mueller's appointment as special counsel is a positive step. My statement: https://t.co/6pDM4z8hD4
Senator Collins’ statement on appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel #mepolitics https://t.co/Ku6hk5V75e
Murphy statement on appointment of special prosecutor for investigation into Trump campaign ties to Russia https://t.co/yjvIckje66
My full statement on the appointment of Special Counsel to oversee #TrumpRussia investigation… https://t.co/aEphkfSnKs
Mueller does not erase the need for an independent commission. #ProtectOurDemocracy https://t.co/q3ev9tfMWf
.@RonWyden's statement on the appointment of special counsel https://t.co/3DAdwJvJem https://t.co/JV9b1DA3Iu
Here's my statement on appointment of a special counsel to lead FBI Russia investigation: https://t.co/vsGhi6yiXp
My statement on the appointment of a #SpecialCounsel to investigate the troubling #TrumpRussia ties: https://t.co/iGlCWjTxd0
I’m encouraged to see @TheJusticeDept has appointed a special counsel to lead the investigation into #TrumpRussia https://t.co/0WNjIEJSqw
Mr. Mueller is a man of integrity and well chosen. Must ensure he has resources necessary for a rigorous investigation #SpecialCounsel
Bob Mueller is a man of integrity. I have every confidence he will pursue this investigation and follow the facts,… https://t.co/ZYXnqF1QYu
The issue of Russian meddling in our election must be investigated fully & former FBI dir. Mueller is well qualified to oversee this probe.
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Host Ainsley Earhardt pointed out that some members of Mueller's team had donated thousands of dollars to Democrats in the past.

"This is just a witch hunt," Conway said in response, repeating a frequent criticism Trump makes towards the ongoing probe. "It's all a hoax, and now they're going in all types of different directions, but I think that the information you just shared is relevant information for America to have. People should know what folks' past and their motivations and their political motivations are. These weren't minor donations."

Conway's statements echoed repeated criticisms Trump and his allies have made against Mueller's team in an effort to paint them as biased against the president.

Trump's legal team has also warned Mueller to stay within the scope of his inquiry. Jay Sekulow, a lawyer on Trump's team, told the Post on Thursday that they would go directly to Mueller to air their complaints if it became necessary.

"The fact is that the president is concerned about conflicts that exist within the special counsel's office and any changes in the scope of the investigation," Sekulow said. "The scope is going to have to stay within his mandate. If there's drifting, we're going to object."

Bloomberg reported on Thursday that Mueller was expanding his investigation to include Trump's past business dealings, and that he was drawing from an investigation opened by former US attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara, who was fired by Trump earlier this year.

Sekulow cited the Bloomberg report, which said Mueller's team was looking into, among other things, a 2008 business deal Trump made with a Russian oligarch.

"They're talking about real estate transactions in Palm Beach several years ago," Sekulow told the Post. "In our view, this is far outside the scope of a legitimate investigation."

Trump alsopublicly warnedMueller against investigating the Trump family's finances, saying that Mueller would be crossing a "red line" if he did so.

"Look, this is about Russia," Trump said. "So I think if he wants to go, my finances are extremely good, my company is an unbelievably successful company. And actually, when I do my filings, people say, 'Man.' People have no idea how successful this is. It's a great company. But I don't even think about the company anymore. I think about this.

"'Cause one thing, when you do this, companies seem very trivial. OK?" he continued. "I really mean that. They seem very trivial. But I have no income from Russia. I don't do business with Russia. The gentleman that you mentioned, with his son, two nice people [Russian billionaire Aras Agalarov and his pop-star son, Emin]. But basically, they brought the Miss Universe pageant to Russia to open up, you know, one of their jobs. Perhaps the convention center where it was held. It was a nice evening, and I left. I left, you know, I left Moscow. It wasn't Moscow, it was outside of Moscow."

The Agalarovs catapulted to the national spotlight earlier this month, when it emerged they had requested that a meeting be arranged between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer with strong ties to the Kremlin last June during the presidential campaign. Mueller's office asked the White House on Friday to preserve all documents related to the meeting, indicating that the encounter had also become a focus of the investigation.

One West Wing official told Axios on Saturday that the president was in the process of building a "wartime Cabinet" because he may really fire Mueller. In the event that happens, the official said, Trump will need "a group that can fight through what could end up being something quite amazing."

"We're going to see out-and-out political warfare, and not over ... Medicaid," the official told Axios.

That assessment was echoed by Matthew Miller, the former Department of Justice spokesperson under President Barack Obama, who tweeted that "we are headed for certain crisis. Trump just will not, cannot allow this investigation to go forward."

Natasha Bertrand contributed to this report.


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