Could President Trump pardon himself before he leaves office? He faces possible liability on bank and tax issues, and a former prosecutor in the Robert Mueller investigation makes the case in a New York Times op-ed that he should get hit with obstruction charges, too. A president, of course, can pardon others, but can he pardon himself? At the Atlantic, Eric L. Muller digs into the constitutional question and writes that it hinges on a single word. The Constitution, he notes, says the president "shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment." The key word there is "grant." If the framers had used "announce" instead of "grant," it would be clear that a president could pardon himself as well as others. But "grant" is another matter.
Muller does a deep dive and finds that whenever the word is used elsewhere in the Constitution, it is used as a transitive verb. That is, one entity grants something to another. He also digs into the word's "original public meaning" and finds the same—it seems that whenever "grant" was used in those days, two entities were involved. What sounds picayune is "linguistically important," he writes. "Grant" in this sense is similar to words such as "surrender" or "relinquish"—"you can't do them to yourself." In his view, then, Trump appears to be out of luck. The question isn't whether Trump can pardon himself, it's whether he can grant himself a pardon. "The evidence, at least according to the text of the Constitution and its original meaning, says no." Read the full analysis. (Read more President Trump stories.)