A reporter asked Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) if he agrees with Donald Trump’s claim that the president can pardon himself. Then there was a long period of silence.
Trump tweeted on Monday that he has the “absolute right” to self-pardon, after internal White House legal strategy memos leaked to the New York Times, echoing expansive, Nixon-like views of executive power. The idea that a president can pardon himself is heavily disputed among legal scholars.
The Weekly Standard’s Haley Byrd asked Cruz if he agreed with Trump’s interpretation, and reported that it took 18 seconds and a second reporter repeating the question for Cruz to finally say, “That is not a constitutional issue I have studied, so I will withhold judgment at this point.”
Here’s the audio of the exchange here. It’s worth listening to.
Cruz is not the first high-profile Republican to show a reluctance to speak on the issue. On Monday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders seemed similarly disinclined to answer the simple yes-or-no question of “Does the president of the United States believe he is above the law?” The White House reporter repeated the question three times.
As Cruz later noted on Twitter, some Republicans defended Trump’s right to self-pardon (many others warned against it), and Democrats, aghast by the assertion, called the notion unconstitutional. As Vox’s Sean Illing explained, the question hinges on the interpretation of the “take care clause” of the Constitution, which specifies that the president “shall take care that the Laws be faithfully executed”; some legal experts take that to mean that the president cannot self-pardon, as it would be an act only in self-interest. In other words, it’s complicated.
In 2015, Cruz, who began his career in the legal profession, studying at Harvard Law School and clerking for Chief Justice William Rehnquist, wrote a scathing critique of what he called the “Obama Administration’s Unprecedented Lawlessness,” in which he evaluated the “take care clause.” However, he says he has not looked into a president’s power to self-pardon specifically.
As for why it took Cruz so long to give his non-answer, he said he was late to a meeting and just ignoring the reporter — as senators do every single day. (As a reporter who’s often in a similar position, it’s true senators ignore our questions every day, but it’s usually because of the content of the question rather than scheduling conflicts.)
Some dishonest journalists have attacked me for "taking 18 seconds" to answer -- without acknowledging that I was walking through the Capitol, late to a meeting, and simply ignoring a question that a reporter had called out at me (as senators do every single day in the Capitol).— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) June 5, 2018
“As for me, I still haven’t studied the issue at that level of detail, and I don’t intend to — because this is nothing more than an academic debate,” Cruz tweeted. “At this point, none of the investigations has demonstrated any criminal conduct needing to be pardoned, as much as those who hate the president might wish otherwise.”
Cruz reinforced his point — but he still never answered if he thought it was legal for a president to pardon himself.