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News Brief: Giuliani Says Trump Has Authority To Pardon Himself


How much does President Trump's power protect him from the special counsel?


That question is being asked after a 20-page letter came to light over the weekend. This confidential memo was first reported by The New York Times, and it argues that the president is so powerful that he can't actually obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer. The letter also refers to the president's power to pardon, which has led to some questions about whether or not he can pardon himself.

MARTIN: All right. We've got NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley with us this morning. Hey, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: Walk us through what exactly Trump's lawyers laid out in this letter to Robert Mueller.

HORSLEY: This letter from back in January is written by the president's lawyer Jay Sekulow and his former attorney John Dowd, and they're basically making the case for why President Trump should not have to be interviewed by the special counsel. First they say there's a high bar for that. The president's a busy guy so he should only have to answer questions if there's no other way for the special counsel to get the information. And the attorneys argue that's not the case here. They note that the White House has already provided a ton of documents. The president's made senior aides available for interviews by the special counsel even though he could have exerted privilege to avoid that. So they say the special counsel has all the information he needs without talking directly to the president. And then secondly, they argue, that there can be no obstruction of justice case against the president because even if Trump's actions are viewed in the most unfavorable light, he was acting within his authority. And if there's no obstruction of justice case, again, they say, there's no reason for Trump to answer questions from the special counsel.

MARTIN: Essentially because he's the boss of the investigation, he could shut it down at any point, which means he shouldn't inherently be capable of obstructing an investigation that he's supervising?

HORSLEY: Yeah. They're articulating an expansive view of presidential power. For example, here they deny the claim that Trump directed former FBI director James Comey to go easy on his first national security adviser Michael Flynn. But even if he did, they say, that's OK. The president has the authority. Likewise, they say they deny that Comey was fired because of the Russia investigation. But even if he was, they say, that's within the president's power, and if it's within his power it's not obstruction of justice.

MARTIN: So what about this pardoning issue? Because this letter broached the presidential pardon power, and that provoked all kinds of questions about whether or not, if the president were to be found guilty of something, could he in fact pardon himself. I mean, first of all, can he, Scott?

HORSLEY: Well, the president's power to issue pardons is very broad. It's granted in the Constitution. The idea of pardoning himself has not been tested, but presumably he does have that power. We heard both Rudy Giuliani, the president's new lawyer, and another Republican, Chris Christie, suggest on the Sunday talk shows that that would be a political jackpot for the president, that pardoning himself, especially preemptively, might, you know, prompt action in Congress up to and including impeachment. But remember; the real point of this letter was designed to head off testimony by the president to the special counsel. They're afraid that would put the president in legal jeopardy. Remember; some of the folks who've gotten in trouble with the special counsel have already gotten in trouble for things they told investigators.

MARTIN: Right.

HORSLEY: So that's what the president's lawyers are really trying to avoid here.

MARTIN: To be continued because we still don't know if he's going to sit for this interview. NPR's Scott Horsley. Thanks so much, Scott.

HORSLEY: You're welcome.


MARTIN: All right. We know the president has power when it comes to trade. He's made that clear by putting steel and aluminum tariffs on some close U.S. allies.

KING: Yes. And leaders in the European Union, Japan and Canada are not happy about this. Over the weekend, finance ministers from the G7 countries met in Canada, and they basically called out the U.S. Here's Canada's finance minister Bill Morneau.


BILL MORNEAU: We've already demonstrated our willingness to retaliate. We were prepared. We were ready to move forward because we knew that this was at least one potential outcome. We've clearly said that we're going to defend Canadians' interests.

MARTIN: All right. So that's the Canadian view. For the European perspective, we're going to turn to NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, who is joining us from Berlin. Hey, Soraya.


MARTIN: So Europe has lashed out at the Trump administration over these tariffs. They are not happy. They have threatened retaliation. Is Europe going to follow through?

NELSON: That's certainly the plan at this point. They filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization, the EU Commission did, and they're seeking levies of about seven - I'm sorry. They're seeking levies on about $7 billion worth of U.S. exports, which would result in about $1.6 billion in retaliatory tariffs, if you will. And they're going after some interesting things like jeans, bourbon, peanut butter and Harley-Davidson motorcycles. No one's officially commenting why they're going after those things, but it's widely believed to be a tactical move aimed at pressuring key Trump's supporters in Congress. For example, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, he represents Wisconsin, where Harley-Davidson is headquartered.

MARTIN: So let's talk about Germany, where you are. Because President Trump has put Germany in his sights. He's reportedly complained about how many German-made cars are imported into the U.S. Are German car officials preparing for this kind of action?

NELSON: Yeah. The German government, as well. They're very, very nervous about this because in the end Germany is the world's top car exporter in terms of dollar value, and the auto industry is a major player in the economy here. So when you talk about the tariffs that have been imposed so far by the Trump administration, I mean, if President Trump were to go after German cars or European cars, German car exports to the U.S. dwarf steel and aluminum exports. But it's also interesting to note that there's a lot of criticism here within Germany that's blaming Berlin and Brussels for this, for letting things get to this point and whether in fact Europe provided the template for such punitive U.S. tariffs in the first place. The EU, for example, slaps U.S. cars with 10 percent customs, compared to the U.S. levy of 2.5 percent. And so there is growing criticism here for why the Germans and the Europeans in Brussels did not in fact try to stop this from happening in the first place, this trade war.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, Soraya, there are reports that the Chinese have reached out to European leaders, to EU leaders. The Chinese ambassador to the EU said, quote, "China is always ready to listen." Is this whole push for tariffs by the Trump administration pushing new alliances, perhaps?

NELSON: Well, certainly China would like that to happen, and they've made a lot of comments. As you noted, the ambassador said what he said, and also the Chinese foreign minister said this in Germany on Thursday, the same day that the tariffs were announced. But the problem is Germany in the EU don't trust China, and it'll be interesting to see whether next month at their summit, the EU-China summit in Beijing, whether in fact they come out with a joint communique, which has not happened the last two years.

MARTIN: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, thanks.

NELSON: You're welcome.


MARTIN: In the Middle East, anti-government protests have spread through the kingdom of Jordan.

KING: Right. The demonstrators are angry over austerity measures, and for the past four nights, thousands of people have gathered in the capital Amman to demand a new government.

MARTIN: NPR's Jane Arraf has been at the demonstrations, and she's with us now. Hey, Jane.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning.

MARTIN: What are Jordanians protesting?

ARRAF: Well, it's all about the economy. These are actually the biggest demonstrations since the Arab Spring swept the region demanding reform seven years ago. And in Jordan here, it's focused on that economic aspect. It's a poor country, and the government has had to raise taxes - it says it's had to - and hike prices on all sorts of things from bread to gasoline. But the last straw was a proposed increase in income tax. So let's listen to one of the protesters, Hanadi Duwaiku (ph). Now, she's solidly middle class, and she says if she's having trouble affording electricity, what about the poor?

HANADI DUWAIKU: This government is leading the country to total chaos. They provoke people. They provoke the nation. As you know, the country is in total poverty because of all the procedures recently have been taken.

ARRAF: So then she tells security forces in Arabic, who are trying to push them back, don't do this. We're doing this for you. And the security forces are telling them, yeah, well, we're with you. You can demonstrate peacefully. But it was a huge demonstration and obviously an indication of the anger across this country.

MARTIN: Is it peaceful? I mean, is it a peaceful protest so far?

ARRAF: For the most part, it was. It was actually quite Jordanian. You know, in some places, they were burning tires and blocking roads because there have been protests in other cities in Jordan. At one point, they used tear gas. But here last night, there were thousands of people, and security forces were telling them that they had the right to protest, they had the right to peaceful protest, but they were worried a bridge would collapse at one point, there were so many people on it. But it was really quite cordial, in a sense. Protesters were trying to push forward to get to the prime ministry, and riot police were trying to push them back. But apart from that, you know, you could see policemen giving water to dehydrated protesters. And the other thing about this was that it's really a cross-section of people - entrepreneurs, the middle class, the poor. It really had a feeling that it was almost an organic protest.

MARTIN: So what does that mean? I mean, is it likely to change anything? We don't - Jordan's not a place where you think that civil unrest is going to move the needle and change policy.

ARRAF: Yeah. That's an interesting thing, will it change anything? It will probably change the government. The king today is meeting with the prime minister, and the expectation of the protesters, anyway, is that he will replace the government. But Jordan's in really a bind. It's a very poor country. Foreign aid is down. It has to do something to raise money. But what protesters really want is someone to listen to them, like in a lot of countries.

MARTIN: NPR's Jane Arraf from Amman. Thanks so much, Jane.

ARRAF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.