Pardoning Manafort: What are the limits on a president's power to pardon?

The indictment of Paul Manafort in Manhattan on Wednesday, minutes after he was sentenced for federal crimes, has sparked a discussion over whether President Donald Trump will pardon his one-time campaign chairman.

Some are suggesting that the charges brought by Cyrus R. Vance Jr. in New York City would guarantee that Manafort serves significant jail time, even if Trump decides to pardon him for the federal crimes to which he pleaded guilty and of which he has been convicted.

Trump was asked by a reporter on Wednesday if he plans to pardon Manafort. “I have not given it even a thought, as of this moment. It’s not something that’s right now on my mind,” Trump said. “I do feel badly for Paul Manafort. That I can tell you.”

How do presidential pardons work, and could Trump keep Manafort from serving any more jail time?

Here’s a look at the process.

Where does the president get the power to pardon?

Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution says the president "shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment."

Who can the president pardon?

The president can pardon any American who has been convicted of a federal crime, who has been court-martialed or who has been convicted in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.

What are the limits on a president’s power to pardon?

There are not many limits on a president’s power to issue a pardon or commute a prison sentence.

The Constitution spells out two limitations only when it comes to presidential clemency. A president can offer pardons only for offenses against the United States – that means federal crimes – and the power may not be used to affect an impeachment process.

What's the difference between commutation and a pardon? 

A commutation is the lessening of a sentence that has already been imposed and is being served. It does not affect the guilt of a person as far as the legal system is concerned.

A pardon wipes off the record the legal effects of a conviction. A pardon restores a person ’s civil rights lost when convicted of a felony. A pardon makes it as if the crime never occurred.

What is a reprieve? 

A reprieve is a delay in the sentencing of a person. Reprieves are rare. Bill Clinton was the last president to issue a reprieve.

Can the president pardon someone who has not been convicted of a crime?

Yes, the president can pardon someone before they are convicted of a crime.

Can the president pardon a person who has committed a state crime?

The president can only pardon those with federal criminal convictions, which are convictions that come from United States district courts. The president cannot pardon someone with a state criminal conviction.

Crimes that Manafort was indicted for on Wednesday, such as mortgage fraud, are examples of state crimes. A president cannot pardon a person convicted of state crimes.

How many people has President Trump pardoned? How many have asked?

Trump has pardoned seven people: Joe Arpaio, Kristian Saucier, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Jack Jackson, Dinesh D'Souza, Dwight Hammond Jr. and Steven Hammond.

He has issued four sentence commutations: Sholom Rubashkin, Alice Marie Johnson, Dwight Hammond Jr. and Steven Hammond.

Can a president pardon himself?

The Constitution does not prohibit the president from pardoning himself. That is not to say a president who pardons himself would not face court action over that act.

Many legal scholars do not believe the president can pardon himself and point to a Justice Department memo given to President Richard Nixon in 1974 that dealt with the Watergate scandal.

The memo read, in part: “Under the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case, the President cannot pardon himself.”

Can Congress or the courts overturn a pardon?


How do you get a pardon?

You can request a pardon or commutation of a prison sentence by submitting a petition to the Office of the Pardon Attorney. The request includes filling out a form and having it notarized.

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