Sessions Defends Trump Pardons 04/26 06:05
Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday defended President Donald
Trump's right to pardon former Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former Bush
administration official I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday defended
President Donald Trump's right to pardon former Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former
Bush administration official I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
Both of those pardons were issued by Trump and bypassed the involvement of
the Justice Department and its pardon attorney, which historically reviews
petitions for clemency and makes recommendations.
Sessions made the comments at a Senate subcommittee hearing where Sen. Chris
Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, reminded him that as a Republican senator from
Alabama, Sessions had once defended the role of the Justice Department's pardon
Sessions said he stood by that assessment. But he also said that there was
no question that the president had the constitutional authority to issue
pardons without the Justice Department's involvement and that there was no
requirement that a president seek the opinion of the pardon attorney.
"It's clearly within the power of the president to execute pardons without
the pardon attorney," Sessions said.
He acknowledged under questioning that he could not recall any pardon during
President Barack Obama's administration that did not go through the Justice
Department, but he complained about pardons from President Bill Clinton that he
"I would just say that pardons that President Clinton were made were
stunning, shocking and unacceptable on the merits," he said in a raised voice.
That was likely a reference to the 2001 pardon of fugitive businessman Marc
Rich, an act that later came under federal investigation.
He defended Arpaio as a legitimate pardon candidate because of the former
Arizona sheriff's advanced age of 85 and misdemeanor contempt-of-court
conviction. He also said Libby had "contributed greatly to America." Libby, a
former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, was convicted in 2007 of lying
to investigators and obstruction of justice following the 2003 leak of the
covert identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame, though no one was ever charged
for the leak.
At another point in the hearing, Sessions declined to answer whether he had
recused himself from an ongoing Justice Department investigation into Michael
Cohen, Trump's personal lawyer. Sessions said he continued to honor his
decision from last year to step aside from the investigation into potential
coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign, but he said it would be
inappropriate beyond that to discuss particular matters he was recused from.
"It is the policy of the Department of Justice that those who recuse
themselves not state the details of it, or confirm the existence of an
investigation or the scope or nature of that investigation," Sessions said.
He also said he supported his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Robert
Mueller as special counsel in the Russia investigation and who, like Sessions,
has been under steady public attack from the president.