Andrew Johnson solemnly assured a campaign rally that he was not Judas Iscariot. Lyndon B. Johnson lifted his shirt to show reporters his gallbladder-surgery scar. Jimmy Carter told Playboy that he had lusted in his heart. Bill Clinton shared with federal prosecutors his unusual definition of sexual relations.
But until recently, the gold standard for inappropriate presidential self-revelation was Richard Nixon’s statement, on November 17, 1973, that “I’m not a crook.”
Then, on June 4, 2018, President Donald Trump tweeted, “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?”
A new record had been set.
Does the president really have the power of self-pardon? Is that power really “absolute”? The first question divides legal scholars; leaving aside the definition of numerous, the self-pardon position certainly has its partisans. The historical record shows that days before resigning, Nixon’s aide Alexander Haig quietly floated the idea of self-pardon; no other president apparently has discussed the idea. But even assuming that self-pardon is constitutional, absolute is a bridge too far.