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Would Conservative Republicans Accept A Presidential Self-Pardon?


President Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani tells ABC's "This Week" that the president has the power to pardon himself.


RUDY GIULIANI: He probably does. He has no intention of pardoning himself.

MARTIN: So he can, but he won't. Or will he? Or would he even need to? These are all questions that have come up after it was revealed that Trump's lawyer sent a letter to the special counsel earlier this year. And in that letter, the attorneys outlined all the reasons the president should not have to sit for an interview with Robert Mueller as part of the Russia investigation. Jonah Goldberg is with us in the studio this morning. He is senior editor for the conservative-leaning National Review.

Hi, Jonah.

JONAH GOLDBERG: Hey. It's great to be here.

MARTIN: All right. The argument the president's lawyers made in this memo is that he can't be guilty of obstruction in the Russia investigation because ultimately, he's the guy in charge of the Russia investigation. Does that jibe with you?

GOLDBERG: This is actually one of these fascinating sort of dorm-room arguments among conservative lawyers about what the Constitution says and doesn't say. The argument basically boils down to - among most of the really smart lawyers I know - that the president can fire anybody who works for the executive branch for any reason he wants. So therefore, it can't be unconstitutional to exercise your due authority. Most of them - most of the smart lawyers I talk to about this - and the conservative lawyers, I should say - also say that if you burnt papers or destroyed documents or evidence, that would be obstruction. So it's not that a president couldn't be guilty of obstruction, it's just that firing somebody who works for him for any reason...

MARTIN: Managing the staffing...

GOLDBERG: That's right.

MARTIN: ...Is somehow different.

GOLDBERG: ...Because he - the entirety of the executive branch is vested in one person. And so what he does as he runs the executive branch in terms of staffing can't be necessarily unconstitutional. The - I think part of the problem - the larger problem gets to this pardon thing. I think it's insane, the idea that the president can pardon himself, but it is ambiguous. You got to remember, when the Constitution was written, there were basically only three crimes at the federal level. It was, like, piracy, treason and one other. And so almost all criminal law was state-based, which the president cannot pardon. And so the idea that the Founding Fathers believed that the president could pardon himself for treason - I mean, maybe some thought it, maybe some didn't, but obviously, the second he tried to do something like that, they'd impeach him.

MARTIN: Right.

GOLDBERG: And I think any president who pardons himself, whether it's a Republican Congress or a Democratic Congress, should immediately look to whether or not they should impeach him.

MARTIN: Oh, backing up, we should just remind people that the whole reason the staffing issue, the firing of people is even something we're talking about in relationship to obstruction is because of James Comey, the former director of the FBI, who was fired by the president. So this is all about whether or not the president will sit for this interview. If he wants this to be done - this whole investigation - isn't the easiest way to just sit for the questioning and take it from Robert Mueller?

GOLDBERG: Yeah. I mean, look, you know, Trey Gowdy recently - or somewhat recently, you know, said the president needs to stop acting like he's guilty. According to the old rules - you know, earth logic, pre-Trump - one of the things that Trump should have simply done is ignored the Mueller investigation for all this time - if he's - if he truly did nothing wrong and just say, hey, look, I can't talk about that; there's an investigation going on - and get about his business. Instead, for over a year, he's obsessed about it, and he's acted as if he's got - he's worried about Mueller finding something about him - maybe it's his business; maybe it's something else - and...

MARTIN: Or just saying something wrong in the process and perjuring himself.

GOLDBERG: Well, yeah, but that's - in terms of the actual interview, it is amazing to listen to Rudy Giuliani and his other lawyers say, you know, there's just no way I'd let my client sit down and be under oath about anything, because they act as if they're just - like, he's an escaped monkey from a cocaine study, and they can't control him no matter what. And so they just - they don't want to have anything to do with it. I think that's a sort of a fascinating sort of admission.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, let's talk about trade. Sure. It's Monday. Let's talk some trade.


MARTIN: The G-7 had this big meeting over the weekend. People there are not so happy with the Trump administration's recent tariffs on steel and aluminum, especially on the EU and Canada - friends of America for a long time, we could say. People in the president's own party think this is a bad move - House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. And it's not a tangential issue. I mean, this is a foundational issue to what the GOP is and has been. What are the stakes right now for the party in trying to craft its identity ahead of the midterms, especially?

GOLDBERG: It's - look, this is tough. This is one of the few issues where - and I think it's a little sad that this is the issue where some of the GOP find their backbone to sort of stand up, but it is one of these issues that really sort of divides movement conservatives, free-market conservatives. And it is something that is going to end up hurting a lot of members of Trump's own base if he keeps going because the people who voted disproportionately for Trump come from districts that are going to be targeted in these reciprocal trade wars.

MARTIN: And may be hurt as a result in their own pocketbook, yeah.

GOLDBERG: And may be hurt as a - yeah, as a economic matter. Yeah.

MARTIN: Jonah Goldberg, senior editor for National Review. Thanks, Jonah.

GOLDBERG: Great to be here. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.