Even Richard Nixon, the US President who resigned before he could be impeached over Watergate, may have hesitated to use his presidential powers to pardon on himself. That hasn’t stopped Donald Trump declaring he has the absolute right to pardon himself in case his battle sours against special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating whether Mr Trump or his associates had helped Russia interfere with the 2016 election. In a legal opinion four days before Nixon resigned, the justice department expressed the view in writing that a President can’t pardon himself. Mr Trump, however, is made of sterner stuff, and given his whimsical, almost megalomaniacal streak, he could well be toying with a pardon as part of his expansive vision of a President’s executive powers. But it’s unlikely it will come down to Mr Trump doing what he says, though he’s now in the throes of acts of clemency.
The sanctity of constitutional values is what makes a strong democracy, and the United States can’t afford to trigger a major debate triggered over a President using the pardon power to benefit himself. The White House spokeswoman says “no one is above the law”, but also declares Mr Trump has done nothing wrong that he’ll need a pardon! The US President may have got emboldened by the traction he gained recently with a dip in unemployment figures and a positive outlook on the economy. But nothing justifies his tirades against the FBI and attorney-general Jeff Sessions, and other attacks on institutions that have served American democracy well. Assaults by the White House on legal norms ensuring a balance of powers are a cause for concern even more than Mr Trump’s delusions of omnipotence.