Trump's lawyers argue the president cannot obstruct justice

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This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," June 4, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: It's almost impractical. The president of the United States pardoning himself would just be unthinkable, and it would lead to probably an immediate impeachment. The House, Senate would be under tremendous pressure. President Trump has no need to do that. He didn't do anything wrong.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Thankfully the president hasn't done anything wrong and wouldn't have need for a pardon.


BRET BREAM, ANCHOR: All right, let's talk about it with our panel: Matt Schlapp, contributor with The Hill; A.B. Stoddard, associate editor at Real Clear Politics and host of "No Labels Radio" on Sirius XM, and Guy Benson, political editor at Welcome to all of you.

OK, so the president has tweeted a lot, as he always does. And he says, listen, I've been told by numerous legal scholars I have the absolute right to pardon myself, but why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong?

MATT SCHLAPP, THE HILL: This is basically all what they call the political question. You are the lawyer. I'm not. But the idea that we would even be in a place where the president would be pardoning himself, and maybe it goes to the nation's highest court. I think what the president is really trying to say is that there are a lot of constitutional questions about everything that has happened in this whole controversy, including spying on the executive branch, spying on members of the opposing campaign, lots of questions here. He is saying I'm going to fight fire with fire. You are doing things I view extra-constitutional, including having a special counsel that's acting more like Senate confirmed actor in the Department of Justice, and he's saying I'm going to fight it with the powers I have as well.

BREAM: I want to play a little bit of what Senator Ed Markey had to say about this. Here's his take.


SEN. ED MARKEY, D-MASS.: It's not a rule of Trump. It's a rule of law that we live under the United States of America. Even in 1974, Richard Nixon's Justice Department made it quite clear that Nixon could not pardon himself. The same thing is true here.


BREAM: OK, and A.B. he is referring to a memo that was written by then acting assistant attorney general Mary Lawton who said set under the fundamental role that no one can be a judge in his own case, the president cannot pardon himself, 1974.

A.B. STODDARD, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Right, Nixon hoped that it would be possible, but it wasn't. This is really, remember we are in the middle of spin wire, of a political campaign that Rudy Giuliani is waging in the press on behalf of Donald Trump at his request to spin things a certain way so as to form the opinions among Trump supporters and others and Congressional Republicans who are supine and completely acquiescent at this point.

BREAM: But they disagree on some of these points.

STODDARD: I don't hear anyone today fighting that pardon thing. Ted Cruz, as Guy and I were just discussing, went silent for 18 seconds when asked if it was constitutional for the president to fire himself. And he boasted -- to pardon himself. I'm sorry.

GUY BENSON, TOWNHALL.COM: Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham --

STODDARD: Chuck Grassley, they did not push back. They said if that was my lawyer, I would get a new one.

BREAM: That sounds like a push back.

STODDARD: We are here taking an oath to the constitution and not the man. He is not allowed to do this. These are nearly dictatorial powers he is describing in the 20-page memo and in his tweets this morning, and that is out of line. No one pushed back that hard. They called it a distraction. Bob Corker wondered why he talks this way which takes away the subjects of the day.

Shannon, let's get back to the fact that the Trump team completely lied about the Trump Tower meeting, description that the president gave when he dictated a false statement. They know Bob Mueller has not. They know that Mark Corallo who was on the legal team temporarily left because he believed a cover-up was in the hatching and he has testified to Mueller about that. They know Josh Raffel and Hope Hicks were in the room when that was crafted.

BREAM: OK, let's break it down. OK, let's break some of this down, because this is one of the things that Rudy Giuliani said about why he doesn't want the president to testify, because he said if you remember things differently, if the accounts change, Guy, that creates a lot of problems even if there is innocent explanation for everything about who dictated the letter, what input the president had. It seems the story has change. But Giuliani said no, Jay got this wrong, but this is why I don't want them interviewing the president.

BENSON: The story has absolutely, and they said no, it didn't happen, and now in the letter that the sent I guess in January they admit that it did. That's not good. That hurts their credibility. There's no question about that.

To me, as I look back and I'm looking at these clips and watching them from Rudy on the Sunday shows and the tweet from the president sort of gaming out self-pardons, I am sitting here thinking what on earth are we doing here? Why are we listening to the president and his team speculate in real time about whether he might do something that they then hasten to add he will never have to do it. To me it's an obvious, that's a crazy hypothetical, it would never come to that. Next question, no comment. But instead Trump doubles down and says you bet I can do it, which is why we're all sitting here debating the finer points of whether or not the president could hypothetically get to that point. Why?

BREAM: But Matt, again, he says there's no need for it. But he wants to be on the record saying I believe because of what legal scholars have told me I would be right to do this.

SCHLAPP: I think there is a hinge here. There's a question about what are the president's -- limits of the pardon power, but there's also this whole question about whether a president can be indicted. I think what the founders and the writers of our constitution envisioned is that a politician, the head of our government, the president of the United States, chief executive, the best way to handle these questions is the impeachment process through the House and with conviction in the Senate.

And all these questions about whether the president could be indicted, it hinges on this question of pardons and it also hinges on this final question, this is really important, we have Bob Mueller acting much more like a Senate-confirmed officer of the constitution and not like somebody who was picked to do a discrete task. And that's the real question here. Is Bob Mueller being managed? Is he able to pull people onto his team at his discretion? If that's the case, he should be confirmed by the Senate. It's a substantial constitutional question that we're not talking about.

BREAM: A.B., you used the word "dictatorial" which you know that is going to upset a lot people when they talk about this.

STODDARD: I said nearly dictatorial.

BREAM: OK, nearly dictatorial, it's qualified. But the constitution does have, as Matt talked about, this framework for impeachment, so if there are enough people convinced that this president is out of line, whether he's committed a crime or not, whether he's pardoned himself or not, they still have a means. He is not limitless in his power. There is still a way to rein him in if the lawmakers are convinced.

STODDARD: But between the memo and his tweets he's basically saying I can terminate this at any time. I can't be indicted. I can pardon myself. He used the words "absolute right." And he is presenting himself as above the investigation let alone the laws that confine it. They are preparing, and we've talked about this at this table for months now, Rudy Giuliani is preparing a political campaign in order to -- basically saying he can't be indicted. He can only be impeached.

But what they are doing with -- the reason I raised a Trump Tower meeting and the statement about it is because they know that Mueller perceives it to be an obstruction of justice and it's likely to be presented in the report that way. So the letter from January with those assertions is designed to say, but you can't even really assess it as obstruction of justice because he can't obstruct the law. And so what he is saying to congressional Republicans is you can't even impeach him for obstruction of justice.

BREAM: Guy, let me bring you into this.

BENSON: Impeachment is a political question, that's exactly right.

STODDARD: I said that.

BREAM: It's not like yesterday that people decided there had to be a P.R. component to the political fights that they are waging here in D.C. That is as old as time.

BENSON: Correct. I would also note that we are all sort of analyzing in granular detail the contents of this letter, this 20-page letter that went out in January. Almost that entire legal team is gone now. So you could argue that some of the assertions that they made in there, they are obsolete at this point, which is why I am still baffled why Rudy and others would even indulge this conversation about self-pardons. That is a distraction right now. It's getting way ahead of anything, and yet they sort of threw that chum in the water come or at least responded to the bait from the press, and then Trump doubled down. I just don't think that does him much of a service here.

BREAM: Well, we will see. There is an inspector general report due out any day. We have got the Mueller investigation and many others, congressional bodies. And yet the president hasn't fired any of these folks yet, so we will see.

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