House Intelligence chair Adam Schiff is already on the long list of Donald Trump’s enemies. This should move him closer to the top. On Thursday, Schiff introduced legislation aimed at making it possible to review presidential pardons when those pardons are related to cases where the president or a member of their family is involved.
The power of the executive to issue pardons is unlimited in the Constitution—an artifact of the author’s belief that actions would be constrained by public opinion and something called “morals.” Any attempt to pass legislation through the normal process that placed a limit on that executive power would run head-on into a constitutional challenge. One that it would almost certainly lose.
But Schiff’s bill doesn’t directly attempt to prevent the executive from issuing pardons to anyone. Instead, it requires that if a pardon is given to someone involved in a case in which the president, or a relative of the president, is involved, the attorney general will have thirty days to put together the complete set of evidence—including the evidence behind the original conviction—and hand it over to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. If the case involves intelligence or counterintelligence, then the House and Senate Intelligence Committees will also get a copy.
Under this legislation, if Trump were to pardon Paul Manafort or Roger Stone, attorney general William Barr would have 30 days to put together a packet for the House Judiciary Committee, including all the information from special counsel Robert Mueller, the Southern District of New York, and any others related to the case.
And then … and then there’s a problem. While the Congress would certainly get a review of the information that led to the original conviction, that information would still be subject to privacy protections when it comes to a public release. And just because the Congress might see clear evidence of criminal behavior, it wouldn’t allow them to roll back the pardon or apply new charges.
But barring a constitutional amendment, that’s about the most that can be done. Truthfully, the bill that Schiff has labeled the Abuse of the Pardon Prevention Act wouldn’t help at all when it came to punishing those released by a pardon or commutation issued in a case where the executive was personally involved. What it would do is provide Congress with clear evidence of the crimes that the executive was overlooking. That’s nothing that could be used in court. But it could have an impact when it comes to impeachment.
Presidents can use a pardon to rectify an injustice. They may not use it to obstruct justice.
I just introduced legislation to ensure that if the pardon power is abused to coverup crimes involving any President, his/her family or associates, Congress finds out: pic.twitter.com/RQ3HjWOZhi
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) March 7, 2019