Trump tweet claims pardon power
NORFOLK, Va. — President Donald Trump unleashed a flurry of nearly a dozen tweets Saturday morning, asserting that he has the “complete power to pardon” aides, family members and possibly even himself — an apparent response to the special counsel’s widening Russia investigation — and decrying “illegal leaks” in the “fake news.”
In 10 early-morning tweets, he commented about pardons, former presidential rival Hillary Clinton, son Donald Trump Jr., health care, the USS Gerald Ford, the attorney general and other topics.
The president also lashed out at a new Washington Post report of previously undisclosed alleged contacts between Attorney General Jeff Sessions — at the time a U.S. senator and senior adviser to Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign — and a Russian official. In a tweet, Trump called the disclosures an illegal new “intelligence leak,” part of what’s seen as his continuing effort to try to shift the public focus to what he claims is a partisan attempt to undermine his presidency.
The president has long criticized leaks of information about the investigation, and has urged authorities to prosecute leakers. Trump maintains that no crimes have been committed.
One of Trump’s attorneys, Jay Sekulow, said the president has not discussed pardons with his outside legal team.
The president’s defense of his pardoning authority came days after The Washington Post reported that he and his legal team have discussed his power to pardon those close to him, including himself.
Shortly after his posts on Twitter, which started just after 6:30 a.m. and lasted nearly two hours, Trump flew to Norfolk, Va., where he injected a dose of partisan
politics into the ceremonial commissioning of a new naval warship.
Speaking aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford, Trump extolled the virtues of the “wonderful, beautiful but very, very powerful” nuclear-powered warship — “We will win, win, win,” he said, “we will never lose” — but also decried the budget compromise known as sequestration, which requires mandatory and corresponding military and domestic cuts.
Trump promised to try to restore higher levels of military funding, but also urged the crowd of about 6,500 — many in uniform — to help him push this year’s budget, in which he said he will seek an additional $54 billion in defense spending, through Congress.
“I don’t mind getting a little hand, so call that congressman and call that senator and make sure you get it,” he said to applause. “And by the way, you can also call those senators to make sure you get health care.”
But Trump’s brief appeal created a potentially awkward tableau at a commissioning event intended to be ceremonial — a commander in chief offering political remarks, and what could even be construed as an order, to the naval officers he commands.
The president’s 17-minute speech aboard the naval vessel, as well as his social media assertions Saturday — which veered between proclamations of innocence and frustration — came as Trump is just six months into his presidency. Several of Trump’s family members, including his eldest son, Trump Jr., and his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, are facing mounting legal questions about their involvement in possible collusion between the president’s 2016 campaign and Russia.
Trump’s tweets Saturday morning began with an assertion that the president has “complete power to pardon” in an apparent allusion to the ongoing investigation into his campaign’s contacts with Russian officials.
Trump aides said the president is merely curious about his powers and the limits of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s attempt to tamper with the 2016 presidential election.
Currently, the discussions of pardoning authority by Trump’s legal team are purely theoretical, according to two people familiar with the ongoing conversations. But if Trump pardoned himself in the face of the ongoing Mueller investigation, it would set off a legal and political firestorm, first around the question of whether a president can use the constitutional pardon power in that way.
“While all agree the U.S. President has the complete power to pardon, why think of that when only crime so far is LEAKS against us. FAKE NEWS,” Trump posted on Twitter.
In another tweet, Trump continued his campaign to discredit the investigation as based on leaks of information
from political enemies aimed at undermining him. The Post reported late Friday that U.S. intelligence officials had collected information that Russia’s ambassador to the United States had told superiors that he had discussed campaign-related matters and policies important to Moscow last year with Sessions, then a senator who had endorsed Trump.
This week, Trump Jr., Kushner and Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, are scheduled to appear before Senate committees investigating Russian meddling.
Trump defended his son in one of the tweets, saying he “openly gave his e-mails to the media & authorities whereas Crooked Hillary Clinton deleted (& acid washed) her 33,000 e-mails!” Trump’s namesake has become a focus of the investigation after it was revealed that he, Kushner and Manafort met with Russian representatives at Trump Tower in June 2016. Trump Jr. later released email exchanges concerning the meeting on Twitter, after learning that The New York Times was about to publish them.
The FBI investigated Clinton for using a private email server as secretary of state. She turned over thousands of pages of emails to the government, but deleted thousands of others that she said were personal or unrelated to her work as the nation’s top diplomat.
In another tweet, Trump said, “A new INTELLIGENCE LEAK from the Amazon Washington Post, this time against A.G. Jeff Sessions. These illegal leaks, like Comey’s, must stop!”
Sessions had initially failed to disclose his meetings with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during his confirmation process; when they were made public in news reports, he insisted he had met with Kislyak only in his capacity as a senator and had not discussed campaign matters. But The Post reported that U.S.
intelligence agencies intercepted communications that showed Kislyak indicated he had “substantive” discussions on matters including Trump’s positions on Russia-related issues and prospects for U.S.-Russia relations in a Trump administration.
U.S. intelligence agencies have said Moscow meddled in the campaign, stealing thousands of emails and other documents from Democratic Party officials and releasing them publicly to embarrass the Democratic presidential nominee, Clinton, and to assist Trump. Trump has said repeatedly that he did not collude with Russian officials and called accounts of the meetings between his campaign and Russian operatives a partisan attack by Democrats to avenge their loss in the election. But he and some of his top aides have hired private criminal-defense lawyers to deal with the investigation.
In his tweet, Trump was referring to former FBI Director James Comey, whom the president fired over his handling of the Russia case. Comey later testified to Congress that he had felt pressure from Trump over the investigation and, after he was dismissed, released memos of his encounters with Trump to the media. The public disclosures helped lead to Mueller taking over the investigation. Trump’s tweet also refers to Amazon.com, the online retailer led by Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Post.
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on what she called a “wholly uncorroborated intelligence intercept” and reiterated that Sessions had not discussed interference in the election. Trump has been angered that Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation. The president told The New York Times last week that he would not have named Sessions attorney general if he had known he would do so.
In yet another tweet, Trump attacked the Times for reports that Islamic State
leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, whose death in a Russian airstrike had been speculated last month, is still alive, according to Pentagon officials.
Gen. Tony Thomas has told reporters that a Times story in 2015 about using certain data to track Islamic State fighters that was gleaned in a 2015 raid in Syria that killed militant Abu Sayyaf resulted in U.S. forces losing the trail to al-Baghdadi. Thomas mentioned the matter again Friday at a security forum in Aspen, Colo., and his remarks were featured in a Fox News report, according to the Times.
The Pentagon raised no objections with the Times before the story was published, and no senior American official ever complained publicly about it until now.
“The Failing New York Times foiled U.S. attempt to kill the single most wanted
terrorist, Al-Baghdadi. Their sick agenda over National Security,” Trump tweeted Saturday.
Trump also said “Republican Senators must step up to the plate and, after 7 years, vote to Repeal and Replace” health care law passed during President Barack Obama’s tenure. An effort to advance legislation collapsed in the Senate last week after several Republicans said they wouldn’t vote for the bill.
Trump ended the tweet with “Tax Reform and Infrastructure. WIN!”