How far will Donald Trump go to protect himself from future legal battles?


In recent weeks, Donald Trump has pardoned several of his closest confidantes, some with some very questionable crimes.


The outgoing president has also previously hinted that he has the "absolute right" to do the same for himself but can he?


Now that the House of Representatives has impeached Mr Trump for a second time on an allegation of inciting insurrection against the US government, he might be convicted in the Senate and disqualified from holding future federal office.


The 45th president is said to have discussed pardoning himself and his family in recent weeks, asking his aides what effect it would have on him legally and politically, two White House sources told the New York Times.


Historically, no president has ever invoked a pardon to shield himself from prosecution and to this day, no consensus on the issue exists.


The only comparative legal assessment dates back to 1974. During the Watergate scandal, President Richard Nixon examined a self-pardon option. However, the acting head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel subsequently issued a statement that concluded: "under the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case, the president cannot pardon himself."


What is pardon?

A pardon is a government decision to allow a person to be relieved of some or all of the legal consequences resulting from a criminal conviction.


A pardon may be granted before or after conviction for the crime, depending on the laws of the jurisdiction.


The power of a pardon itself comes from the US Constitution. However, it does not mention self-pardoning.


Can a president pardon himself?

A president can pardon an individual at any point, including before a person is charged with a crime.


This means they can be protected from prosecution as a pardon gives them legal immunity from criminal liability. However, a court would have to rule whether to accept if that pardon is valid.


For those who have already been found guilty of committing a crime a presidential pardon means they are technically "off the hook".


Nonetheless, a president can only pardon federal crimes so anyone pardoned can still be prosecuted by any of the 50 states.


Article II, Section 2, Clause 1, states that the president possesses the power of pardon, "except in cases of impeachment."


The question that arises in Donald Trump's case is whether his impeachment has stripped him of even the theoretical chance of a self-pardon under the Constitution?


The concept of the self-pardon also violates other foundational principles of the laws on which the country is based.


Justice Samuel Chase wrote in Calder v Bull (1798), "[Regarding] a law that makes a man a Judge in his own cause … [i]t is against all reason and justice, for a people to entrust a Legislature with SUCH powers; and, therefore, it cannot be presumed that they have done it.”


Federalist James Madison also stated: “No man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause, because his interest would certainly bias his judgment, and, not improbably, corrupt his integrity.”


On this basis, the Office of Legal Counsel concluded in 1974 that the president cannot pardon himself.


Self-pardons are a particularly dangerous form of self-dealing that undermine the rule of law itself.


Furthermore, a self-pardon opens up Trump to a number of federal liabilities. He would essentially dare the Biden administration to investigate and prosecute him.


The Supreme Court, which will inevitably get involved can conclusively clarify whether the courts are inclined to uphold a self-pardon or deem it unconstitutional. Either way, America would see if the president is above the law.


Can Trump pardon his family?

Yes. Just as he has pardoned some of his aides and associates, Mr Trump can pardon his family. Several, including his daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner, and his son Eric Trump, have worked very closely with him during his term.


Trump has so far pardoned 70 people. This includes former members of his campaign and staff who made false statements to federal agents - Michael Flynn, Roger Stone, Paul Manafort and George Papadopoulos. He also granted posthumous pardons to women's rights activist Susan B. Anthony and early 20th-century championship boxer Jack Johnson.