WASHINGTON — You don’t tweet about pardoning yourself unless you are thinking about pardoning yourself.
That reality sits behind President Donald Trump’s truly amazing tweet on Monday morning — in which he made clear that while he has no plans to pardon himself, he totally could do it if he wanted to.
“As has been stated by numerous legal scholars, I have the absolute right to PARDON myself, but why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong?” tweeted Trump. “In the meantime, the never ending Witch Hunt, led by 13 very Angry and Conflicted Democrats (& others) continues into the mid-terms!”
Absolute right. Ahem.
That the President of the United States felt the need to weigh in on the legal debate over whether or not he can pardon himself provides us a remarkable window into Trump’s mindset at the moment.
There can be no doubt that Trump has a focus bordering on obsession with the special counsel investigation being led by former FBI director Robert Mueller. A quick scroll through his Twitter feed shows how much of his time is consumed by thinking about the investigation. And the tone of those tweets — angry, incredulous and, most interestingly, victimized — suggest just how much emotional investment Trump has in all of this.
(Shortly after Trump sent the “PARDON” tweet, he typed this one out: “The appointment of the Special Councel (sic) is totally UNCONSTITUTIONAL! Despite that, we play the game because I, unlike the Democrats, have done nothing wrong!)
The fact that Trump felt compelled to weigh in on the ongoing legal debate over whether or not he can pardon himself (as well as whether or not Mueller can subpoena him or indict him) means the idea that there may eventually be something to pardon himself for is on his mind.
Take it out of the context of this President and politics. Let’s say that I tweeted that I didn’t run a stop sign this morning — “and if I did, it was poorly marked!”
Your likely reaction would not be: “Sounds like Chris didn’t run a stop sign.”
It would be: “Why is Chris tweeting about running stop signs and pre-denying that he did it?”
Because, of course it would be. Innocent people don’t tend to talk, unprompted, about their innocence. It’s sort of assumed.
To be clear: I am not suggesting Trump has a guilty conscience and that is what’s driving him to tweet about how he could totally pardon himself. I can’t peer into his mind and know that. But what we can say is that it is HIGHLY unusual for a president to get involved in debating whether or not he can pardon himself. Why assert that you have an unquestioned right to pardon yourself if, in the next breath, you make clear you have no plans because you have done nothing wrong?
Here’s my educated guess: Trump is very frustrated by his inability to know what Mueller knows or have any sense of when Mueller might wrap things up. He believes, in his heart of hearts, that this whole probe is the result of Democratic/”deep state” dissatisfaction about losing the 2016 election.
And so, he is wary about what Mueller will find. In order to protect himself from any and every eventuality, Trump — with a major assist from former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani — has gone on a PR campaign designed to smear Mueller and his team, painting them as “angry” prosecutors blinded by partisanship.
What Trump — and Giuliani — are clearly hoping to do is invalidate whatever Mueller finds out in the eyes of the President’s base. A biased group has produced a biased report. Big whoop!
Trump’s decision — impulse? — to tweet about his ability to pardon himself is a logical extension of that strategy. We’re not only going to discredit Mueller, we are going to get people used to the idea that if I want to pardon myself, I can. By the time Mueller’s report comes out, I will have repeated the idea that I can pardon myself so many times that if I do it, my base won’t even bat an eye.
As always with Trump and his base, it’s a strategy that very well could work. If they are willing to believe anything he says — and, at this point, it seems they are — than why not believe that, of course, the President is going to pardon himself after he was unfairly maligned by Mueller?
In a strange sort of way, Trump’s tweet this morning makes perfect sense. He’s laying the groundwork to do something unthinkable — and make it seem to his political base like it’s no big deal.
Don’t be fooled. A President of the United States floating the idea of a pardon for himself before a single charge is brought or a single page of the Mueller probe is out is hugely out of step with past practices. Hugely.