Republican senators really want Rudy Giuliani to stop talking—about hypotheticals, about crimes that nobody has been charged with yet, and about the special counsel’s investigation.
On Monday, those lawmakers were peppered with questions about whether President Donald Trump can pardon himself, and whether the president—any president—can be indicted for obstruction of justice. It was mostly thanks to Giuliani, who over the weekend asserted, among other things, that Trump, as the president, could not legally be indicted even if he had shot former FBI Director James Comey instead of firing him.
“I think it really is a distraction and I wish he wouldn’t comment on things like that because it raises questions that really have been laid to rest,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) said.
Cornyn echoed his GOP colleagues in expressing frustration that Giuliani, who in addition to his legal work has become a de facto political adviser to the president, has been publicly raising issues that they view as counterproductive—including the suggestion that the president could pardon himself if he is convicted of a federal crime.
“I don’t know why we’re talking about it, honestly. We’re about to go into the North Korea summit. We’ve got to deal with immigration,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said. “I don’t know why Rudy brought it up.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) bluntly suggested that Trump should fire Giuliani for even raising the possibility that the president would pardon himself, telling CNN: “If I were President of the United States and I had a lawyer that told me I could pardon myself, I think I would hire a new lawyer.”
Republican senators pushed back substantively, too, against Trump’s lawyers who, in a January letter to special counsel Robert Mueller that The New York Times published on Saturday, argued that the president cannot be charged with obstruction of justice because his office gives him broad power over federal investigations. (A central aspect of Mueller’s inquiry is whether Trump obstructed Russia-related federal probes when he fired Comey last year.)
“It is entirely possible for a president to obstruct justice—if a president committed perjury to lie to or mislead investigators, if he encouraged others to, if he destroyed evidence,” Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) told The Daily Beast. “I could think of lots of ways that a president could obstruct justice. So it is theoretically possible.”
Under the Constitution, members of the Senate would be responsible for voting to convict a sitting president and throw him or her out of office if the House of Representatives approves articles of impeachment. Several Republican lawmakers who voted to impeach or convict Bill Clinton for obstruction of justice are still serving today, and for the most part, they pledged to remain consistent on the matter.
“I’ve always said I didn’t think anybody was above or below the law,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) told The Daily Beast. Added Grassley: “Nobody’s above the law. Otherwise we wouldn’t have a system of law.”
On the issue of whether the president could pardon himself, GOP senators said such a move would amount to political suicide for Trump. But they questioned why Trump’s attorney—and the president himself, in a tweet early Monday morning—would even bring it up when Trump has not been formally accused of a crime.
“He likes to get you guys writing and talking about stuff. He’s pretty good at it. But you can only pardon someone who has been charged with something. The president hasn’t been charged with anything,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said.
“This is a man who continues to say there’s no there there. Yet he is acting the absolute opposite,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “What’s he want to pardon himself for? Which of the various crimes that he said didn’t exist is he thinking about pardoning himself for? This is a disturbing pattern.”
For his part, Giuliani told The Daily Beast on Monday that Trump would never pardon himself, adding that the “practical control” for such a move would be for Congress to impeach him. Republicans essentially promised to do just that.
“If you buy the idea that the president—even though he’s the chief law enforcement officer of the land—is not above the law itself, then I think everything else falls in line,” Graham told The Daily Beast.
Asawin Suebsaeng contributed reporting.