White House press secretary Sarah Sanders appeared reluctant to answer a simple yes-or-no question on Monday: Does the president of the United States believe he is above the law?
This morning, President Donald Trump tweeted that he had the “absolute right” to pardon himself should he be charged in the investigation into Russia influence on the 2016 presidential election. (It’s more complicated than that.)
The tweet prompted NBC’s White House reporter Peter Alexander to ask Sanders a very specific question: “Does the president believe he is above the law?”
The exchange is worth watching.
Sarah Sanders was repeatedly asked if the President believes he is above the law. Here's what she said. pic.twitter.com/Bzrs3CteSM— Meg Wagner (@megwagner) June 4, 2018
“Certainly not — the president hasn’t done anything wrong,” she said.
So Alexander asked again: “The question isn’t if the president has done anything wrong. I guess the question is, does the president believe the framers envisioned a system where the president could pardon himself — where the president could be above the law?”
Sanders hesitated again, saying, “The Constitution very clearly lays out the law, and once again, the president hasn’t done anything wrong, and we feel comfortable on that front.”
But as Alexander pointed out, the Constitution is not clear on this point. “You just a moment ago said it’s not that clear — so simply put, does the president believe he is above the law?”
“Certainly no one is above the law,” Sanders finally said.
Despite Trump’s absolutism on his pardoning power, as Vox’s Sean Illing explained, constitutional scholars are divided on a president’s ability to self-pardon. It all hinges on the interpretation of a “shall take care that the Laws be faithfully executed” clause in the Constitution, which some legal experts take to mean that the president cannot self-pardon, as it would be an act only in self-interest.
Sanders is known for being able to creatively spin Trump’s repeated lies, scandals, and errant tweets. This particular instance highlighted the lengths to which the White House press secretary is willing to go to defend the president’s freewheeling — and potentially legally problematic — commentary.