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Liberal Group Offers Trump White House Staff Free Legal Advice

‘Lifeline’ comes as president boasts of ‘complete’ pardon powers

President Donald Trump, shown here with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, in March at the White House, with son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump, tweeted this weekend he can pardon anyone. (Courtesy Shealah Craighead/White House)
President Donald Trump, shown here with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, in March at the White House, with son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump, tweeted this weekend he can pardon anyone. (Courtesy Shealah Craighead/White House)

A liberal group will offer Donald Trump’s White House staffers free legal advice amid his ongoing Russia scandal — but if the president’s legal analysis is correct, they might choose to decline it.

Tax March is poised to announce an initiative the organization described as a “lifeline” to those who chose to take positions in Trump’s embattled White House. Under the program, lawyers working on a pro bono basis will provide any White House staffer a “free gateway” to legal advice.

“The Trump inner circle’s legal problems are so bad, even the lawyers are getting lawyers,” said Nicole Gill, the group’s executive director. “The ongoing federal investigation into President Trump’s improper activity may have placed some of his own staffers in potential legal jeopardy.”

That’s why Tax March concluded it is “important to offer White House staff a way to obtain gateway legal advice without going broke, particularly if they are worried about the legal jeopardy their work environment creates but are not able to afford the counsel the president has retained at such a high price tag.”

Some legal experts have mentioned this very problem — especially for younger staffers — to Roll Call in conversations since Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller as special counsel to lead the Justice Department’s probe of Russia’s election meddling and possible ties between Trump’s campaign and the Kremlin.

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In a statement set to be released Monday and obtained early by Roll Call, Tax March noted Trump himself, as well as Vice President Mike Pence, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, and eldest son Donald Trump Jr., have hired personal counsel to handle all things related to the Russia-campaign matter.

A source told Roll Call that Tax March officials decided now was the time to launch the “hotline” for White House staffers in recent days after a report that the president has asked his top legal aides to determine where the office of the presidency’s pardon powers end. That Washington Post report also stated the internal legal review included a query straight from Trump about whether, as president, he possesses the power to pardon himself.

The lawyers who will man Tax March’s White House “hotline” are doing so under the agreement that they will remain anonymous, the source said.

White House rank-and-file employees might turn to the “hotline” before they potentially speak with Mueller’s team of investigators. But should he recommend Justice Department officials pursue criminal charges against individuals now working for the Executive Office of the President, some might be breathing easier than they were just a few days ago.

That’s because Trump on Saturday morning, during yet another remarkable series of tweets, asserted that he has the power to pardon anyone and everyone who might be charged after Mueller completes his work.

Trump wrote to his 34.4 million Twitter followers — supporters and critics alike — that “the U. S. President has the complete power to pardon.”

The tweet implied that the president is poised to waive any criminal sentences imposed on his family, top aides, lower-level employees, and even himself in relation to the Russia scandal. He could even issue so-called pre-emptive pardons, which would shield his family, top lieutenants and even low-level White House aides before any case could reach the sentencing phase — or even charges brought.

In the tweet, the president issued yet another factually shaky statement when he wrote that “all agree” that the office of the president has the legal power to pardon anyone the incumbent sees fit.

The question — especially whether a sitting chief executive can pardon himself — remains very murky, even among some of the country’s top legal experts and lawmakers.

On Aug. 5, 1974, the Office of Legal Counsel in President Richard Nixon’s Justice Department concluded the president lacks the authority to pardon himself. Nixon resigned four days later rather than face impeachment and removal.

There is some bipartisan agreement with that finding. For instance, senior lawyers in the Obama and George W. Bush administrations wrote recently that “the Constitution specifically bars the president from using the pardon power to prevent his own impeachment and removal.”

“It adds that any official removed through impeachment remains fully subject to criminal prosecution,” Obama ethics lawyer Norman Eisen and Bush ethics lawyer Richard Painter wrote in an op-ed, joined by Laurence Tribe, a professor at Harvard Law School. “That provision would make no sense if the president could pardon himself.”

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But Sen. Rand Paul on Sunday took a different view of the Constitution.

“I think, in all likelihood, he does” have the power to pardon himself and those around him, the Kentucky Republican said of the president. “I think that some of this hasn’t been adjudicated.”

Paul told CNN that Trump should think hard before signing any pardons: “I think in a political sphere, I would caution someone to think about pardoning themselves or family members, or et cetera.”

Despite the president’s Saturday tweet, which instantly went viral, his incoming White House communications director, career Wall Street financier Anthony Scaramucci, tried on Sunday to tamp down the pardon fervor his new boss displayed a day before.

Using a double negative that appears part of his rags-to-riches New Yorker persona, he told CNN that “the president isn’t thinking about pardoning nobody.”