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Trump says he has 'absolute right' to pardon himself of federal crimes, but denies any wrongdoing

The White House in Washington, June 3, 2018. President Donald Trump spent the weekend at Camp David. (Al Drago/Copyright 2018 The New York Times)

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump on Monday, June 4, asserted an "absolute right" to pardon himself of any federal crimes but said he has no reason to do so because he has not engaged in any wrongdoing.

"As has been stated by numerous legal scholars, I have the absolute right to PARDON myself, but why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong?" Trump wrote on Twitter.

In a subsequent tweet Monday, Trump also claimed that the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election had been "totally UNCONSTITUTIONAL!"

"Despite that, we play the game because I, unlike the Democrats, have done nothing wrong! Trump said.

Trump's assessment of his pardon powers echoed that of his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who offered an expansive view of the president's executive powers during a series of interviews Sunday, arguing that Trump probably has the ability to pardon himself.

"He probably does," Giuliani said Sunday, when asked on ABC's "This Week" if Trump has the ability to pardon himself. "He has no intention of pardoning himself, but he probably - not to say he can't."

Giuliani's comments came less than 24 hours after the revelation Saturday that the president's legal team argued in a confidential January memo to Mueller that Trump could not have obstructed an FBI probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election because, as president, he has total control over all federal investigations.

In his tweets on Monday, Trump again lashed out at Mueller's probe, calling it a "never ending Witch Hunt," asserting that it was led by "13 Angry and Conflicted Democrats (& others)" and predicting that it would continue through the mid-term elections.

Mueller is a Republican, as is Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, a Trump appointee overseeing Mueller's investigation.

Legal scholars differ on the issue of whether a president can pardon himself.

The question of whether a president can self-pardon has long been a "parlor game" among scholars, said Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law professor at George Washington University Law School.

There's no precedent for it and thus no case law. Turley said he believes a president can pardon himself - but added that would not protect a president from impeachment.

"A president cannot pardon out of an impeachment," Turley said. Congress, he said, "can use his pardon as an abuse of his office."

Ethan Leib, a professor at Fordham Law School, said he believes a president can't self-pardon because that violates the oath of office - in which the president swears to "faithfully execute" his duties - and the stipulation in Article II of the Constitution that the president "shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed."

"The Constitution is clearly prohibiting the president from engaging in self-dealing," Leib said.

Trump did not say in his tweets why he believes the Mueller probe is unconstitutional.

Late last month, Steven Calabresi, one of the founders of the conservative Federalist Society, argued in a guest editorial in the Wall Street Journal that Mueller cannot oversee such a broad investigation because he was not confirmed by the Senate.

Calabresi asserted that under the appointments clause of the constitution, an official overseeing the probe would be a "principal officer" and would have to be someone who was appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

With Trump going on Twitter again to undermine the Mueller probe, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., sought to bolster its legitimacy.

In a tweet directed at Trump on Monday, he wrote: "Special Counsel Mueller's investigation has either indicted or secured guilty pleas from 19 people and three companies. Five of these people, including three former Trump aides, have already pleaded guilty."

Trump's tweet about his pardon power comes as he has issued a string of pardons of others, most recently conservative commentator Dinesh D'Souza.

As he pardoned D'Souza last week for a campaign finance law violation, Trump also said he was weighing commuting the prison sentence of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, D, as well as granting a pardon to Martha Stewart, the television personality and lifestyle mogul, arguing that they and D'Souza had been unfairly treated by the justice system.

Many have seen Trump's actions as a signal to personal attorney Michael Cohen, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and others ensnared in Trump-related investigations that they, too, could be spared punishment in the future.

Trump also used Twitter on Monday to mark his 500th day in office. In an earlier tweet, he said he had "accomplished a lot - many believe more than any President in his first 500 days." The president ticked off a series of accomplishments, including "Best Economy & Jobs EVER."

Story by John Wagner. Wagner is a national reporter who leads The Post's new breaking political news team. He previously covered the Trump White House. During the 2016 presidential election, he focused on the Democratic campaigns of Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley. He also chronicled Maryland government for more than a decade.

The Washington Post's Ashley Parker, Joel Achenbach and Devlin Barrett contributed to this report.