Just before they left Philadelphia, the Constitution’s framers tackled a question that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report has revived, 232 years later: Could the president abuse his pardon power to obstruct justice?
On September 15, 1787 — with the Constitution drafted, the summer’s heat cooling and the convention delegates at the Pennsylvania State House eager to go home — Virginia Gov. Edmund Randolph stood to voice a last-minute concern. The president, Randolph said, shouldn’t be able to pardon treason.
“The President may himself be guilty,” Randolph argued. “The Traytors may be his own instruments.”
Mueller’s report, which mentions presidential pardons 64 times, closely scrutinizes President Trump’s comments about the possibility of pardoning former aides Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen and Michael Flynn.
“Evidence concerning the President’s conduct towards Manafort indicates that the President intended to encourage Manafort to not cooperate with the government,” the report states. “The evidence supports the inference that the President intended Manafort to believe that he could receive a pardon,” Mueller adds, “which would make cooperation with the government as a means of obtaining a lesser sentence unnecessary.”
The Constitution doesn’t allow the president to abuse his pardon power, Mueller’s report says. “Congress has the authority to prohibit the corrupt use of anything of value to influence the testimony of another person,” Mueller wrote, “which would include the offer or promise of a pardon to induce a person to testify falsely or not to testify at all.”