09:02, July 23 362 0 theguardian.com

2017-07-23 09:02:03
Donald Trump's legal team denies it is looking into presidential pardon

Donald Trump’s legal team is not looking into whether the president can pardon himself, one of the president’s attorneys has said, because “there is nothing to pardon”.

Lawyer Jay Sekulow was talking to reporters after an appearance at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver on Saturday. Earlier, Trump tweeted: “While all agree the US president has the complete power to pardon, why think of that when only crime so far is LEAKS against us. FAKE NEWS.”

Questioned by reporters, Sekulow said: “I don’t know where this came from. There is nothing to pardon.”

The Washington Post reported this week that Trump’s legal team was looking into pardons as it looked to limit the reach of special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating links between Trump aides and Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Citing a person familiar with such discussions, the paper said Trump had “asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the probe”.

The Post also quoted a “close adviser” as saying: “This is not in the context of, ‘I can’t wait to pardon myself’.”

The report prompted the highest-ranking Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, Mark Warner, to express serious concern.

“We’re not researching [pardons] because it’s not an issue,” Sekulow insisted on Saturday, adding that nor were there any such discussions among the president’s private legal team.

Legal experts who spoke to the Guardian doubted that a president could pardon himself, but said the legal picture was by definition unclear, given that Richard Nixon was pardoned after resigning over the Watergate scandal – but by his successor, Gerald Ford.

“It really is uncharted territory, and that makes it interesting to discuss but hard to predict,” said Brian C Kalt, a law professor at Michigan State University and author of a recent book, Constitutional Cliffhangers. “Anyone who’s certain is wrong.”

Trump’s tweet immediately concerned – and seemed to confirm – the leak to the Washington Post of intelligence material that said Sergey Kislyak, the outgoing Russian ambassador to the US, told superiors he discussed the Trump campaign with then-senator and Trump adviser Jeff Sessions at meetings in 2016.

Sessions, now attorney general, has denied discussing the campaign with Kislyak. His failure to immediately disclose such meetings led to his recusal from the justice department investigation.

This week, in an interview with the New York Times, Trump criticised Sessions and said he regretted hiring him. Sessions said he would stay in the job “as long as is appropriate”.

Trump’s Saturday tweet was one of 10 fired off in an hour, the morning after the appointment of Anthony Scaramucci as the new White House communications director and the subsequent resignation of the press secretary, Sean Spicer.

The president defended his son Donald Jr, who met a Russian lawyer last June in an attempt to secure information helpful to his father’s campaign about Hillary Clinton. He also attacked Clinton, Democrats and the Post and the Times. He added that healthcare reform, stalled in the Senate, was now solely the responsibility of the Republican party.

Later on Saturday, it was announced that a bipartisan group in Congress had agreed new sanctions against Russia that Trump will only be able to block with a contentious use of the veto.

iting unnamed sources, Reuters reported that investigators were hoping to gain the cooperation of Trump’s former campaign chair, Paul Manafort, in their inquiry into links with Russia.

  • Additional reporting by Tom McCarthy