HARTFORD - Former House judiciary chairman Jim Sensenbrenner said President Donald Trump may pardon himself as he has claimed, but that, “I certainly would advise the president not to do it.”
Sensenbrenner said doing so likely would lead to an impeachment inquiry by the U.S. House. The Menomonee Falls Republican was a House impeachment “manager” or prosecutor during the impeachment trial of Democratic President Bill Clinton before the U.S. Senate.
At the same time, Sensenbrenner expressed impatience with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation during a town hall meeting in Hartford Sunday night, attended by about two dozen constituents.
“Mr. Mueller has been working for over a year. He has spent $17 million. His (charge) was to look at allegations of the Trump campaign colluding with the Russians. He’s come up with nothing on that ... maybe the time has come to write a report, send it to Congress, let Congress and the public debate it and fold his tent and stop the meter from running,” said Sensenbrenner, who said that decision was up to Mueller, not Congress.
Sensenbrenner told constituents at the meeting he agreed with the argument that the president can pardon himself.
“The president’s pardoning power is plenary, meaning it’s not subject to review by anybody,” said Sensenbrenner.
But the lawmaker said that, “If a president pardoned himself, the judiciary committee would probably be bound to hold an impeachment inquiry on that and decide what to do based on the testimony that was presented at the inquiry.”
(Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani also said in recent days a self-pardon would probably lead to impeachment).
Asked by a constituent about broad claims by Trump advisers that the president can’t be compelled to testify and “by definition” cannot obstruct justice, Sensenbrenner said those are issues that “the courts will have to decide.”
In an interview Monday, Sensenbrenner said, “I don’t think he can obstruct justice criminally during his term of office,” but he noted there were impeachment articles based on obstruction drawn up against both presidents Nixon and Clinton.
“While the president is in office, the only way he can be called to account for allegations of obstruction of justice is through the impeachment process,” said Sensenbrenner, who has also participated in a number of judicial impeachments during his long congressional career.
At his Hartford town hall, Sensenbrenner said a president “may blow off a judicial subpoena and may do what would be an obstruction of justice in a criminal way, and not be subject to the usual penalties for that. But in my opinion, both of them would be impeachable offenses.”
In a tweet Monday, Trump said, “I have the absolute right to PARDON myself but why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong?”
The president also asserted without elaboration that Mueller’s appointment was “totally unconstitutional.”
While Sensenbrenner voiced impatience with Mueller, he said he did not question the general legitimacy of his investigation.