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Pascrell, Lieu Introduce Resolution of Inquiry into Trump’s Dangerous Abuse of Pardon Power

Washington, DC, June 8, 2018

U.S. Representatives Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-09) and Ted Lieu (D-CA-33) today introduced H.Res. 928, a Resolution of Inquiry directing the President and Attorney General to transmit to the House information on the President’s use of the pardon power under Article II of the Constitution. Upon introduction, Reps. Lieu and Pascrell issued the following joint statement:

“Donald Trump’s actions constitute an unparalleled danger to the stability of the republic. This is not empty hyperbole. And it is why this Resolution of Inquiry is so critical. In a nation built on the rule of law, the executive pardon is one of the most sacred authorities a President holds. Its power is nearly unchecked and subject to no legal review. It was created by the Framers to be wielded with the greatest care to extend clemency to those deserving of mercy. It was not meant to be a weapon for the President to use to undermine justice.

“This President has repeatedly sought to do just that. Demonstrating the seriousness of issuing pardons, the Justice Department uses an elaborate vetting process. Obtaining a pardon used to be extraordinarily difficult. Which it should be. Yet, Donald Trump has dismissed any pretense of process. He has issued pardons to convicted felons who have never expressed contrition. Reports indicate he has openly discussed pardons for former contestants on The Apprentice, his aides, and his family members. On Twitter, he has bragged about holding the power to pardon himself. Democracy is not reality TV. Donald Trump is cheapening our bedrock justice institutions in ways that will make them more vulnerable to misuse and debasement. They reflect a President who sees his office as that of a king who stands above all laws.

“Despite these actions, congressional Republicans have refused to exercise a hair of oversight. House Judiciary Committee Democrats have repeatedly called for hearings on pardons and this week wrote to White House Counsel Don McGahn demanding information on the President’s pardon decisions. Our Resolution of Inquiry builds on these efforts. The Resolution directs Attorney General Jeff Sessions to provide the House with any records relating to any pardon Donald Trump has issued or has considered issuing. It will ensure that the American people learn more about Trump’s abuses of this sacred power before it’s too late.”

The Lieu/Pascrell Resolution of Inquiry requests the White House and directs the Attorney General Jeff Sessions to provide to the House of Representatives any documents, recordings, memos, records, or other communications relating to any pardon Donald Trump has issued or has considered issuing, including those potentially involving Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort, Mike Flynn, George Papadopoulos, and anyone else including Trump’s family and himself.

Resolutions of Inquiry are one of the methods used by the House to obtain information from the executive branch. The House traditionally ‘‘requests’’ the President and ‘‘directs’’ the heads of executive departments to furnish information. The House Judiciary Committee will have 14 legislative days from its introduction to consider the resolution. If the committee has not acted on it within that frame, either favorably or unfavorably, it is sent to the House floor for consideration.

Article II, Section 2 of the U.S Constitution posits that the President “shall have Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.” This allows the President to free any American from federal criminal liability, as well as commute sentences or restore rights diminished by conviction. A pardon can cover past acts and be applied whether a person is under investigation, is on trial, has been convicted, or has long been out of prison. The power is not subject to judicial review.

Donald Trump’s exercise of the pardon power so far, and his ruminations of that power, constitute perhaps the most disturbing pattern of his presidency so far. Last August Trump pardoned the former sheriff of Arizona’s largest county, Joe Arpaio, following his conviction for imposing a reign of racial profiling terror against Latinos and for the systematic mistreatment of prisoners in his custody. In April, he pardoned Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, who was convicted in 2007 of perjury, lying to FBI agents, and obstruction of justice. And last week, he pardoned right wing commentator Dinesh D’Souza, a well-known race baiter convicted of a campaign finance felony. None of these individuals ever expressed responsibility or contrition – the bedrock requirement for previous administrations to even be considered the honor of a pardon.

Trump has mused about using his pardon power to absolve the legal liability his aides and his family members to block possible indictments. He has openly bragged about pardoning himself – an absurd proposition that would elevate the American presidency to the status of a monarch above all laws.

As Donald Trump has ramped up his abuse of the pardon power, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee have been increasingly active in highlighting the dangers of Trump’s pardon measures and statements and demanding oversight hearings. This week, Committee Democrats sent a letter to White House Counsel Don McGahn demanding information from McGahn on Trump’s pardons and the procedures the White House has gone through in making its pardon decisions. H.Res. 928 constitutes the next step in shining light on the urgency of the pardons issue and the threat Trump’s behavior poses.

Rep. Pascrell has been one of Congress’s most vocal voices calling for greater oversight of Donald Trump and of his use of the pardon power, publishing an op-ed on the subject last week. Rep. Pascrell has also introduced two Resolutions of Inquiry seeking information on Trump’s personal and business tax returns and other financial information that has remained hidden from public scrutiny.

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