Home 2017 Races Is Abuse of the Pardon Power an Impeachable Offense?

Is Abuse of the Pardon Power an Impeachable Offense?


This coming Tuesday, our grotesque President is scheduled to go to Phoenix for one of his campaign-style (I was tempted to say Nuremberg-style) rallies.

President Trump has already indicated that he’s contemplating issuing a pardon for Joe Arpaio, former sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona. Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt, connected with his refusal to cease violating the rights of Latino citizens, whom he terrorized for years. And not surprisingly, this notorious persecutor of vulnerable minorities was a political ally of Trump’s during the campaign.

The mayor of Phoenix, Greg Stanton, who has publicly (and apparently futilely) requested that Trump cancel the plans for the rally, worries that Trump will use the Tuesday rally to announce a pardon for Arpaio, who might otherwise serve up to half a year in prison. Mayor Stanton connects such a pardon with the President’s widely-condemned response to the disturbing events in Charlottesville last Saturday.

Pardoning Arpaio would indeed reinforce the President’s alliance with bigotry, and his ripping apart our diverse nation and thus, as Mayor Stanton fears, stir up more conflict.

But it would also do something else.

Putting such a pardon together with the news of several weeks ago about Trump’s inquiring into his pardoning powers creates a clear image of a President lacking the barest respect for that basic American value: the rule of law.

That inquiry of Trump’s about his pardoning power was disclosed in the context of a continuing cascade of news about the Trump/Russia investigation, in which Trump’s son, his son-in-law, and his first national security advisor are among those entangled.

Trump evidently was also interested in knowing whether he could pardon himself.

People could reasonably suspect that the White House disclosure of Trump’s inquiries into his pardoning power– was a threat issued in the guise of an inquiry. The substance of the suspected threat might be stated:

I can use my pardoning power to assure that my allies and I are above the law, and beyond its reach.

It is true that the Constitution grants the President the pardoning power, and imposes no limits upon it. Nonetheless, there is the concept of “abuse of power,” and the “abuse of power” is recognized as a reason to remove the president from office.

The suspicion that Trump’s inquiry constituted a lawless threat to undercut the legal process, as his campaign is investigated for possible criminality, would only be confirmed if Trump issues a pardon for his ally Arpaio.

The two acts together — the pardon for an abuser of power, finally brought to justice, and the threat to nullify any legal effort to hold the Trump gang accountable for crimes — paint a picture of a president who looks at the Constitution not as a guide to his responsibilities but an arsenal of weapons to be used in his quest for unchecked dominance. And in particular, to use the pardon power to place his allies (and perhaps himself) above the law.

If that isn’t an abuse of power, what would be?

So, in case we need any more basis for impeaching this president, that would be provided by Trump’s making such an announcement about Arpaio in Phoenix this coming Tuesday.


  • Jim B

    I certainly can’t answer that question, but I doubt that Trump even cares. He has gotten away with so much over the years that there doesn’t seem to be any constraint to his actions. Hopefully the special prosecutor can put him away, but short of that we are in for a heck of a ride.

  • Andy Schmookler

    A variety of comments on this piece, where it appears on Daily Kos, elicited from me the following response:

    The main drift of the comments here, at this point, seems to be that
    idea that an impeachable offense is anything the House of
    Representatives thinks it is.

    That’s true. But it really misses the point.

    Think about what the nature of the battle is here in America, at this
    point where we have a president like Trump. It’s a battle that involves
    the force of opinion. It is a battle in which an important part of the
    task is to expose Trump for what he is so that as many people as
    possible want him out, and as few people as possible support him.

    I trust that you folks know that it is Trump’s continuing support in
    the Republican base that keeps more Republicans from repudiating him.
    And that it is the increasingly intense opposition to him by the
    majority of Americans that frightens the Republicans about being tied to

    So how does all that relate to this piece?

    What the piece does is present an argument that, if properly used,
    can frame a pardon for Arpaio IN ADVANCE to show that larger point about
    Trump’s abuse not only of his abuse of power, but his abusive
    orientation toward the Constitution itself: “a president who looks at
    the Constitution not as a guide to his responsibilities but an arsenal
    of weapons to be used in his quest for unchecked dominance. ”

    It has the potential, if properly used, to help people see that he is
    trying to use his rightful power for the wrongful purpose of putting
    his allies above the law. As pmc6 says above, it constitutes an attack
    on the judiciary, and the legal process altogether.

    Just as a variety of shots have been fired across Trump’s bow to say
    that firing Mueller would be unacceptable — a warning that thus far he
    seems to have been restrained by— the argument presented above could
    serve as a kind of warning to Trump about pardoning Arpaio, which is
    similarly illegitimate, even if strictly within his constitutional

    If that were to inhibit Trump from issuing the pardon, that would be
    reason enough to promote that argument. But I don’t see that as likely.

    But more likely is that it can be added to the weight of all those
    things that weigh against allowing this man to continue as President. It
    joins his various obstructions of justice. It compounds the picture of
    Trump as — in Lawrence O’Donnell’s words of last night — our

    It is one more way of exposing a man who violates the spirit of his oath of office on a continuing basis.

    So yes, the Republicans in the House are not about to impeach him.
    (The Chair of the House Judiciary Committee represents my District in
    Virginia, and is the man I ran against as the Democratic nominee in
    2012. And he is doing absolutely nothing to make this president accountable.) But every salvo softens the enemy’s ability to resist. And this provides one more salvo.

    At one level, Gerald Ford was right in saying that ““An impeachable offense is anything the House of Representatives thinks it is.” But at another, very important level, he is also wrong. The Constitution, when it speaks of impeachment, does not
    say what Gerald Ford said. It speaks of various forms of wrong-doing
    which the framers wanted to disqualify someone from retaining his

  • Bill c

    My memory is poor, but didn’t bill Clinton pardon Marc Rich? Who gave a lot of dosh to the cause? No direct connection was proven, it was an “exit” pardon, but hey?

    Also, of all the terrible things trump has done and will do, pardoning an old man is low on the list.

    • woodrowfan

      on his last day in office, under pressure from Israel. Clinton later said it was a mistake. Come back when you can show Clinton pardoned a person who made a career of targeting minorities simply for being non-white.