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Alex Brandon / AP

President Trump triggered front-page coverage across the land by tweeting yesterday that "all agree the U. S. President has the complete power to pardon."

All don't agree. But associates say Trump's position on pardons (and willingness to fire special counsel Bob Mueller) is no surprise in light of the contempt he showed for a 40-year tradition by refusing to release his tax returns, and his decision to fire FBI Director Jim Comey against the advice of some top West Wing officials (to say nothing of the fact that it was one of the dumbest political mistakes in the modern era).

The takeaway: When Trump makes decisions, he doesn't think in terms of constitutional or ethical lines. He doesn't torture himself over the separation of powers. Instead, he still thinks of himself as a CEO trying to gain advantage in transactions. He wants to brawl, and he doesn't care how it looks.

Remember his litigious past: This isn't a unique approach for him. It's standard operating procedure.

A self-pardon by Trump would be "a first in all of human history," according to a WashPost op-ed today ("Trump can't pardon himself") by Harvard's Larry Tribe, along with Richard Painter (chief White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush) and Norman Eisen (chief White House ethics lawyer for President Obama).

  • "We know of not a single instance of a self-pardon having been recognized as legitimate. Even the pope does not pardon himself."
  • A more likely scenario would involve pardoning relatives or associates. That, though, could trigger defections from Republican lawmakers that could weaken Trump's hold on office.

Harvard Law Professor Noah Feldman tells CNN's Laura Jarrett that the structural arrangement putting the president in charge of law enforcement as the head of the executive branch "works just fine until the president or those close to him come under investigation."

"So if the President tries to fire Mueller or gets him fired, 'it would expose a deep flaw in constitutional design.'"

Be smart: Aides say the quickest way to get Trump to do something is to tell him he can't, or argue that it's contrary to tradition. You always have to give him an alternative, and sometimes you can persuade him.

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Go deeper

48 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Inhofe loudly sets Trump straight on defense bill

Sen. Jim Inhofe speaks with reporters in the Capitol last month. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Senator Jim Inhofe told President Trump today he'll likely fail to get two big wishes in pending defense spending legislation, bellowing into his cellphone: "This is the only chance to get our bill passed," a source who overheard part of their conversation tells Axios.

Why it matters: Republicans are ready to test whether Trump's threats of vetoing the bill, which has passed every year for more than half a century, are empty.

Conspiracy theories blow back on Trump's White House

Sidney Powell. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

President Trump has rarely met a conspiracy theory he doesn't like, but he and other Republicans now worry the wild tales told by lawyers Sidney Powell and Lin Wood may cost them in Georgia's Senate special elections.

Why it matters: The two are telling Georgians not to vote for Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler because of a bizarre, baseless and potentially self-defeating theory: It's not worth voting because the Chinese Communist Party has rigged the voting machines.

49 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Bolton lauds Barr for standing up to Trump

John Bolton. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

John Bolton says Attorney General Bill Barr has done more to undercut President Trump's baseless assertions about Democrats stealing the election than most Senate Republicans by saying publicly that the Justice Department has yet to see widespread fraud that could change the election's outcome.

What he's saying: “He stood up and did the right thing," Bolton said in a Wednesday phone interview.

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