President Trump has declared that he has the “absolute” right to pardon himself.
By more than 3-1, 64 percent to 18 percent, those surveyed in a USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll say the president doesn’t have the power to pardon himself. Even Republicans are inclined to split with Trump on this. Just 29% say he has the power to pardon himself; 45% say he doesn’t.
Trying to do so could spark a constitutional crisis for the White House: 58 percent of Americans, including 31 percent of Republicans, say the House of Representatives should impeach the president if he pardons himself.
“If he has to have a presidential pardon for it, then he shouldn’t be president,” says Valeri Crankshaw, 57, of Hayward, California. She voted for Trump in 2016, but her admiration for him has waned since then. On everything from pardons to foreign policy, she said, “I think he’s trying to send a message to the world that he can and will do whatever he wants to do, and no one can stop him.”
The survey of 1,000 registered voters, taken Wednesday through Monday, has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.
"GOP voters are still as supportive of Trump as they have ever been, but a sizable portion dont see him as above the law of the land,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center. “This finding signals the introduction of a possible wedge issue within the Republican party, the likes of which we havent seen in this presidency."
Unconventional pardon process
President Trump’s unconventional approach toward the pardons process has divided even his core supporters. More than six in 10 of those surveyed say he should use the traditional process that relies on a Justice Department review of applicants for presidential pardons and clemency. One in four, 26 percent, say he should “make his own judgments” on whom to pardon. Republicans split 42 percent-42 percent on which option he should use.
So far, the president has been relying on his judgment and the suggestions of friends and celebrities. Trump granted clemency to former Arizona sheriff Joseph Arpaio, who supported him during the campaign. He commuted the life sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, a grandmother convicted of a nonviolent drug crime, after Kim Kardashian West urged him to do so.
“There will be more pardons,” he said this month, mentioning as possibilities legendary boxer Muhammad Ali, former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, and lifestyle mogul Martha Stewart.
More: Analysis: Trumps bold Joe Arpaio pardon breaks with presidential tradition
Only 30 percent of those surveyed approve of the way Trump is handling pardons, significantly lower than the 43 percent who approve of how he’s handling the job of the presidency generally.
Self-pardon would cause alarm, concern
Pardoning himself would spark a strong reaction from Americans.
Given four options, 39 percent said they would feel “alarm” and another 20 percent would feel “concern.” Twenty-five percent said their reaction would depend on the circumstances.
Nine percent said they would feel support — including just 17 percent of Republicans.
“Well, honestly, in most circumstances the president has a certain amount of executive latitude,” said James Marsh, 56, a retired attorney from Tripp, South Dakota, who was among those surveyed.
But in follow-up interviews, some said they thought Trump’s action on pardons was designed to send a message to associates who might get ensnared in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling.
"Hes definitely sending a message," says Donald Pollosco, 64, of Lanoka Harbor, New Jersey. "The main message is to sit tight; were all in this together."