Can The President Pardon Himself?

It's difficult to know exactly why, but in recent days, the question has been raised: can the president of the United States extend a presidential pardon to himself? Maybe it's a societal innocent curiosity, or because Mercury is stuck in retrograde. Whatever the reason, it's a sticky topic that has constitutional scholars and family members who insist on making holiday get-togethers uncomfortable discussing the subject at great length. 

Under Article II of the Constitution, the president has "Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States..." (note the ellipses. We'll come back to that.) Historically, such a pardon has only been given to one president when, in 1974, Gerald Ford offered a "full, free, and absolute pardon" to Richard Nixon following the Watergate scandal. What wound up being one of the most unpopular moves in U.S. political history, however, would have been a horse of a different color had Nixon been the one offering Nixon a pardon.

Is the presidential pardon the ultimate trump card?

Scholars disagree on whether or not that could have happened. One article published by the National Constitution Center points out that the framers never directly addressed the subject of a presidential self-pardon. It's also brought up that, according to a legal scholar named Brian Kalt, Nixon was informed by his legal team that he did, in fact, have the power to pardon himself, but that doing so would leave the door wide open for an impeachment.

Which brings us to the sneaky second half of that ellipses from earlier. The full quote from Article II, Section 2 reads "...he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment." 

But there are other points of view, such as when President Trump tweeted in June of 2018 "...I have the absolute right to PARDON myself..." calling to mind Alexander Hamilton's argument in the Federalist Papers that "it takes diff'rent strokes to move the world."