House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is calling for legislation that would limit the presidential pardon powers after President Trump commuted the 40-month prison sentence of Roger Stone on Friday.
The president’s decision came days before his longtime friend and political confidant was to report to prison for lying to investigators about what he and then-candidate Trump knew about Russian efforts to discredit Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential campaign.
House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Adam Schiff says Trump’s standards of justice — one for his friends and accomplices, and one for everybody else — are “a real body blow to the rule of law in this country.”
Schiff says Trump’s decision to let Stone go scot-free is “an appalling degradation” of democracy in the U.S., and says silence from Republicans in Congress has let the president act without any consequences.
“The reason he can get away with it, frankly, is that the Republicans in Congress are so supine that they won't stand up to him,” he says.
On whether the commutation carried political risks
“... [President Richard] Nixon considered pardoning people that were implicated in his own wrongdoing. But he understood that he couldn't get away with it. And the reason he couldn't is because Republicans in Congress would have stood up to that kind of a clear abuse.
“But here, apart from one or two GOP Senators, even though this was someone who lied to a congressional committee that was being chaired at the time by a Republican, not that that should matter, but nonetheless, they don't say a word. And this is what lets Donald Trump get away with it.”
On Pelosi’s proposed legislation to curtail presidential pardons
“Well, I don't think it will certainly get to the goal line this year. Even if we could get it passed, it would be vetoed by the president. But I think what the speaker has in mind is that we're going to have to take up legislation to discourage the abuse of the pardon power in the future. And I think it will once Donald Trump is out of office. Hopefully this November it will have bipartisan support because the Republicans won't support it today because they're definitely afraid of an angry tweet from the president or being berated by one of his acolytes on Fox primetime. But once he is no longer a factor, they will recognize they don't want any president, Democrat or Republican, to act in this kind of abusive fashion.
“So I have a bill I introduced, actually it was over a year ago, that would provide in a case where a president pardons or commutes a sentence in an investigation in which the president himself is a witness, subject or target, the complete investigative files in that matter will be provided to Congress so that we can determine whether this is in another act of obstruction of justice by the president. That would, I think, heavily discourage the abuse of this power.”
On whether the president could be impeached again
“I don't know that it's being discussed. You know, given the fact that with the Senate, confronted with overwhelming evidence in the impeachment just a few months ago, apart from the courage that Mitt Romney showed, none of the Republicans were willing to stand up to this president. Nothing gives us much confidence they would now either.”
On whether the president’s actions have proven that he thinks he can do whatever he wants
“Well, I certainly would not say that he can do whatever he wants without consequence. And there's no telling what this president will do. But the reality is 130,000 Americans are dead now. And a lot of this, I think, is a responsibility of the grossly incompetent handling of this crisis by the president of the United States. We warned during the trial that if he were left in office just in the intervening months, he could do a lot of damage. We, in fact, had no idea how much damage he would go on to do. But it's hard to imagine a more catastrophic last year of a presidency than the one we're in right now.”
On Sen. Lindsey Graham justifying commuting Stone’s sentence
“Well, it's appalling. And again, this is why Donald Trump, at least politically in the Congress, can get away with it because he has people like Lindsey Graham to cede the ground for him. I can't imagine during Watergate, one of the Republican senators, let alone the chair of the Judiciary Committee publicly, you know, encouraging the president to pardon or commute the sentence of someone in Watergate.
“This just shows what the GOP has become under Donald Trump. It has become essentially a cult of personality around the president with no devotion to the institution of Congress. I mean, imagine in any other circumstance, a member of Congress, let alone the chair of the Judiciary Committee, saying it's fine to lie to Congress. You don't have to go to jail. You can intimidate witnesses. That's perfectly okay, just as long as you do it for the president of our party to help him cover-up. I mean, it just is shocking now how willing members of the president's party in Congress are to do anything the president wants, no matter how corrupt.”
"This just shows what the GOP has become under Donald Trump. It has become essentially a cult of personality around the president with no devotion to the institution of Congress."Rep. Adam Schiff
On whether the president could pardon or commute more sentences of allies
“I think the fact that he's gotten so little pushback from members of his party has to be an encouragement to him to do more. I think the president also views, frankly, the pardons or commutations as a distraction — a needed distraction from this daily increasing death toll from the virus, and his terrible response to it, his utterly incompetent response to it. In the president's view, if he can get people talking about anything else, that's politically advantageous, even if it's talking about a different scandal of the president's. So in that kind of frame of mind, I think the president is capable of almost anything.”
On COVID-19 surging in his state of California
“Because we fell behind in testing and we never developed fully the tracing capability that we need to reopen. We simply, nationwide, and this is true in California too, have not been able to keep a close enough eye on where the virus is to be able to trace it when people get sick and isolate them and treat them. And without all of those things in place, it's only a matter of time before the virus gains ground. And sadly, we're seeing that throughout the whole country.
“It really calls for a strong level of leadership at the very top. And instead, at the very top, you have a president talking down the seriousness of the virus, trying to ignore it, trying to silence people like Dr. [Anthony] Fauci who are warning of it. And the result is disaster. We have the worst response in the world to the pandemic. We have more of the virus and more death than anywhere else in the world. And the curve doesn't look like it's flattening anytime soon.
“So what we really need is some presidential leadership. We're not going to get it so the governors are left to their own device and mayors as well. And given that people travel freely, it's simply never going to be sufficient without strong national leadership.”
This segment aired on July 13, 2020.