Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley said Monday that it’s an “open question” whether President Donald Trump can pardon himself.
Hawley, the state’s top law enforcement official and a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, has clashed with U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, the Democratic incumbent, on whether the special investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election should continue.
“This is an open question — courts have not said one way or another. But I get where the president is coming from: this investigation has gone on way too long and cost way too much. Mueller should wrap it up and present his evidence,” Hawley said in a statement provided from his campaign.
The special investigation has lasted roughly a year and has produced five guilty pleas and 17 indictments. Past special investigations into the Watergate, Iran-Contra and Whitewater scandals all lasted several years before concluding.
Trump called the Russia investigation a witch hunt on Twitter Monday and said he has “the absolute right to PARDON myself, but why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong?”
He later said the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller was “totally UNCONSTITUTIONAL!”
McCaskill expressed concern about Trump’s attacks on the FBI and special counsel during a campaign stop in Kansas City last week.
She noted that Muller is a registered Republican and said that Trump does not understand that law enforcement’s duty is to protect the constitution rather than the president.
“I have such a sense of panic about the rule of law in this country because it has been one of the beacons to the rest of the world that we’re admired for,” McCaskill said.
McCaskill has also criticized Hawley’s handling of investigations into former Gov. Eric Greitens, specifically a probe into the former governor’s use of a private messaging app that concluded without finding any evidence of wrongdoing.
Documents produced in a civil case last week showed that Greitens and 19 staffers had used the app, more than double the number that had been disclosed during Hawley’s investigation.
McCaskill’s campaign did not immediately comment on Trump’s tweet about his right to pardon himself, but on her personal Twitter account the senator retweeted a CNN reporter quoting U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, that Trump should hire a new lawyer.
Trump attorney and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has suggested in recent days that the president does possess the power to pardon himself.
One of Hawley’s GOP rivals for the nomination, Austin Petersen, said Monday that he believes the constitution grants Trump this power, but that he should refrain from using it because a pardon would fuel efforts to impeach the president.
“If the founding fathers had wanted to put in a provision so the president couldn’t pardon himself, they would have done it,” Petersen said. “My view is that the investigation is a total sham.”
Richard W. Painter, who served as chief ethics counsel for former President George W. Bush, said on Twitter that the president “cannot pardon himself. The fact that he says he can pardon himself is yet more evidence that he is unfit for office. Congress must begin the process of impeachment now!”
Painter previously published a piece in The Washington Post with Harvard Law professor Lawrence Tribe and President Barack Obama’s chief ethics counsel Norman Eisen arguing that the constitution specifically bars the president from issuing a self-pardon.