So many fascinating aspects to the impeachment process now playing out in the nation. The fact we, as a nation, have to deal with this mess is a testament to the low character which was allowed access to the Oval Office on Inauguration Day 2017. One of the reasons for impeachment to proceed, even if the Senate won’t convict him concerns the pardoning power of the president.
Assume that Trump is impeached on grounds that include a raft of federal crimes – bribery, treason, obstruction of justice, election fraud, money laundering, conspiracy to defraud the United States, making false statements to the federal government, serving as an agent of a foreign government without registering with the justice department, donating funds from foreign nationals, and so on.
Regardless of whether a sitting president can be indicted and convicted on such criminal charges, Trump will become liable to them at some point. But could he be pardoned, as Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon 45 years ago?
Article II, section 2 of the Constitution gives a president the power to pardon anyone who has been convicted of offenses against the United States, with one exception: “In Cases of Impeachment.”
If Trump is impeached by the House, he can never be pardoned for these crimes. He cannot pardon himself (it’s dubious that a president has this self-pardoning power in any event), and he cannot be pardoned by a future president.
Even if a subsequent president wanted to pardon Trump in the interest of, say, domestic tranquility, she could not.
Gerald Ford wrote in his pardon of Nixon that if Nixon were indicted and subject to a criminal trial, “the tranquility to which this nation has been restored by the events of recent weeks could be irreparably lost.”
Had the House impeached Nixon, Ford’s hands would have been tied.