This Tuesday morning, The New York Times contacted Donald Trump Jr. telling him that they were going to publish emails indicating his excitement on the possibility of Russian operatives having dirt on Hillary Clinton. Trump Jr. responded by tweeting out the emails himself. Regarding this matter, Jens David Ohlin, a Cornell law professor, told Vox, “It’s a shocking admission of a criminal conspiracy.” After all, obtaining valuable information from a foreign source is a clear violation of federal laws, and that is exactly what Trump Jr.’s emails suggest about him.
If that’s the case, then what exactly prompted Trump Jr. to post the emails publicly on Twitter? There’s a much simpler reason to it than you might think, according to Professor Ohlin: President Trump holds the pardon power. The Constitution is quite clear about the president’s pardon power. Article II, section 2 states, “The President … shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.” Neither the Congress nor the Federal Courts have this power. This means that for federal crimes such as this, Trump has the authority to pardon his son without restriction. The reason for pardoning can be absolutely anything. The resident can pardon as many people as he like, which means there are no limits to familial pardons as well.
The president’s power even extends to people who have not yet been charged with a crime. The Supreme Court made this entirely clear in 1866, when it wrote that the power “extends to every offence known to the law, and may be exercised at any time after its commission, either before legal proceedings are taken, or during their pendency, or after conviction and judgment.” Famously, President Ford used this power to pardon President Nixon, less than a month after Nixon resigned. In “Proclamation 4311 – Granting Pardon to Richard Nixon,” Ford wrote:
“Now, Therefore, I, Gerald R. Ford, President of the United States, pursuant to the pardon power conferred upon me by Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution, have granted and by these presents do grant a full, free, and absolute pardon unto Richard Nixon for all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed or may have committed or taken part in during the period from January 20, 1969 through August 9, 1974.”
Although, there is one limit to the presidential pardon. If enough people of the state are outraged by this decision, they could demand their representatives to stand against the president and even impeach him over the matter.
However, that wouldn’t likely be an effective condition in this case. So given this massive authority his father has, it shouldn’t come as a surprise why Trump Jr. was comfortable posting his emails on social media.