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One of the nation’s leading legal experts has decried an alleged White House pardon bribery scheme as “an extreme abuse” of power in the final days of Donald Trump’s presidency amid new reports of the potential crime.
Speaking to CNN on Tuesday night, Laurence Tribe, a Harvard Law professor and constitutional expert, broke down the laws surrounding presidential pardons — and explained why a “preemptive pardon” like the one discussed in news reports would be impossible for Mr Trump to grant one of his allies.
“Everybody agrees that you can’t pardon someone ahead of the time that they actually commit a crime,” the professor said. “That kind of preemptive pardon is impossible, and yet when you are engaged in bargaining with somebody about a possible pardon at a time when they are still engaged in all kinds of shenanigans, you are essentially saying go ahead, commit crimes if you want, and retrospective I’ll give you the kind of sweeping pardon that I have now given Michael Flynn.”
Mr Tribe spoke amid explosive reports based on newly-unsealed court records that indicated the Justice Department was probing the potentially criminal bribery scheme.
The heavily redacted documents appeared to show prosecutors working to uncover a secret lobbying effort over "a substantial political contribution in exchange for a presidential pardon or reprieve of sentence.”
There are lots of reasons a self-pardon isn’t permitted by the Constitution, but a key question nobody seems to have asked is why pardoning someone in return for a bribe must be forbidden. It’s because the only legal pardon is one granted solely to benefit another, not yourself!
— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) December 2, 2020
Mr Tribe called the reports an “extreme abuse of the pardon power” and added: “It’s all an absolute violation of fundamental constitutional principles.”
By Wednesday, the legal expert had taken to Twitter to further debunk the notion that Mr Trump could pardon himself — and why “pardoning someone in return for a bribe must be forbidden.”
“It’s because the only legal pardon is one granted solely to benefit another,” he wrote, “not yourself!”
It remained unclear who exactly was at the heart of the potentially bribery scheme being investigated by the Justice Department. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.