WASHINGTON President Donald Trump has used his pardon power to settle political scores and correct perceived injustices and now he claims to have the power to pardon himself, too.
The pardon power is one of the most sweeping powers the president has under the Constitution. But Trump's pardons are raising new questions about its purpose and limits.
Some frequently asked questions and answers about the pardon power:
Where does the pardon power come from?
The power has its roots in the British monarchy where it's been traced back to seventh century kings and from there back to amnesties granted by Greek, Roman and biblical kings.
The founders enshrined that power in Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution, which says the president "shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment."
Why did the founders include the pardon power in the Constitution?
Alexander Hamilton explained the reasoning in Federalist No. 74: "Humanity and good policy conspire to dictate, that the benign prerogative of pardoning should be as little as possible fettered or embarrassed. The criminal code of every country partakes so much of necessary severity, that without an easy access to exceptions in favor of unfortunate guilt, justice would wear a countenance too sanguinary and cruel."
In other words, a robust presidential pardon power is a necessary check on the criminal justice system.
Are there any limits to whom the president can pardon?
The Constitution itself contains only two restrictions: The pardon must be an offense against the United States that is, a federal crime and not a state crime. Also, the president cannot use the pardon power to save himself or another official from impeachment.
Can the president pardon himself?
Because no president has ever tried it, the question has never been tested.
The strongest argument that the president can pardon himself is that the Constitution doesn't say he can't.
Brian Kalt, a Michigan State law professor who has studied the issue of self-pardoning for 20 years, said he believes that the president cannot pardon himself but that there is a serious argument on the other side. "It certainly would not get laughed out of court the way some people seem to think," he said.
However, most scholars believe that such a pardon would be invalid. First, the Constitution says that the president has the power to "grant" pardons and a grant is something given to someone else.
Also, a fundamental rule in law is that "no one may be a judge in his own case." That was the reasoning behind a Justice Department memo delivered four days before President Richard Nixon resigned in 1974.
But that same opinion suggested a workaround: The president could temporarily step down under the 25th amendment, saying he was unable to assume the duties of his office. The vice president, as acting president, could grant the pardon and then the pardoned president could resume office.
Could the president be impeached for granting a pardon to himself or others?
This is another law school hypothetical that's becoming increasingly salient as the investigation into Trump campaign proceeds.
Even Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, concedes that a presidential self-pardon is unthinkable and probably lead to immediate impeachment.
But what about if Trump pardoned someone else involved in the Russia investigation?
There is something of a precedent. In 1992, President George H.W. Bush pardoned six former administration officials involved in the Iran-Contra affair in what independent prosecutor Lawrence Walsh called a "cover-up" of Bush's own role in the scandal.
So those pardons would be valid but possibly an impeachable offense if Congress decided he was obstructing justice. As President Gerald Ford said, "An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history."
Can a presidential pardon obstruct justice?
Legal scholars agree that a presidential pardon, once delivered, is valid. The recipient enjoys all the benefits of a pardon, no matter why it was granted.
But could the granting of the pardon be a crime in itself? That's being hotly debated.
Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz argues that it's not. It doesn't matter what the president's motive is, and as president he alone gets to decide who is worthy of his mercy.
Critics of that position say it could lead to preposterous results: The president could then legally accept bribes in exchange for pardons.
"While the president most certainly has this power, we know of no one who believes that the president can simply sell pardons for cash," University of Chicago professors Daniel Hemel and Eric Posner wrote in The New York Times last year.
What are the benefits of a pardon?
A pardon represents a full legal forgiveness for a crime, removing any remaining prison sentence, probation conditions or unpaid fines. It also removes other collateral consequences of a conviction, allowing felons to vote, hold professional licenses, run for public office or own a gun.
What's the difference between a pardon and a commutation?
While a pardon removes all consequences of a conviction, a commutation is a narrower grant of mercy used to shorten a prison sentence while leaving the conviction intact.
Pardons are usually far more common in the federal system. President Barack Obama was the first president since Warren Harding to grant more commutations than pardons.
What other forms of pardons are there?
The Constitution grants the power of both "pardons and reprieves." A reprieve, or respite, is a delay in the imposition of a sentence. The last presidential reprieve came in 1998, when President Bill Clinton postponed the execution of Juan Raul Garza, a convicted murderer and drug trafficker. Garza was executed in 2001.
A president can also use his pardon power to remit monetary fines, but that use is rare in modern times.
What's the difference between a pardon and an expungement?
An expungement wipes out any record of a criminal conviction as if it never happened, often sealing the case file. A pardon acknowledges the conviction but removes all punishments for it. Many states have specific procedures for expungements, but in the federal system they're rare.
What's the process for applying for a pardon?
Officially, those seeking presidential clemency apply to the Office of the Pardon Attorney, a unit of the Justice Department that answers to the deputy attorney general. The pardon attorney staff reviews the case, asks for an FBI background investigation, and seeks comments from prosecutors and the judge.
From there, a recommendation makes its way up to the Oval Office: A staff attorney, the pardon attorney, the deputy attorney general, an associate White House counsel, the White House counsel and then the president.
But because the Constitution vests the pardon power in the president, Trump or any other president can bypass that process and grant a pardon on his own.
Can someone be pardoned for a misdemeanor?
Yes, although the Office of the Pardon Attorney generally won't consider a petition unless the applicant can show that there's a specific civil right that has been curtailed as a result of the conviction.
How many pardon applications are pending?
As of April 30, there were 2,108 pardon applications and 8,833 clemency applications pending with the Office of the Pardon Attorney. That doesn't count any pardons the president is considering outside the normal process, like former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and television personality Martha Stewart.
Are pardons a matter of public record?
Yes, but all of the paperwork that goes into that decision the applications, the investigations and recommendations to the president are protected by executive privilege.
Today, the names of everyone pardoned by the president are listed on the Justice Department's web site.
What does a "full and unconditional" pardon mean?
Presidents may attach conditions to acts of executive clemency before they become effective. They may order the recipient to pay a fine or restitution, complete their sentence, or undergo drug treatment.
A full and unconditional pardon has no strings attached and is effective immediately.
Can the president pardon someone who hasn't been convicted of a crime?
Yes. In Ex Parte Garland, an 1866 case involving a former Confederate Senator who was disbarred from the practice of law, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that his pardon from President Andrew Johnson restored his civil rights even though he had never been charged with a crime.
The pardon power, the court said, "extends to every offence known to the law, and may be exercised at any time after its commission, either before legal proceedings are taken or during their pendency, or after conviction and judgment."
Most famously, Ford pardoned Nixon for any crimes that Nixon "has committed or may have committed or taken part in" during his presidency.
Can someone refuse a pardon or a commutation?
Yes. Most recently, a Texas man convicted of drug trafficking refused a commutation from Obama in 2015 because Obama required him to go through drug treatment first.
More: Obama grants clemency to inmate but inmate refuses
The Supreme Court has made clear that he had the right to do it. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson tried to pardon George Burdick, the editor of the New York Tribune, in an effort to compel him to reveal his sources in a grand jury investigation. But the court ruled that Burdick didn't have to accept a pardon if he didn't want it.
Is the acceptance of a pardon an acknowledgement of guilt?
In the Burdick case, the court said a pardon "carries an imputation of guilt and acceptance of a confession of it."
But it's mostly a rhetorical question, and certainly presidents have granted pardons on the premise that the recipient was actually innocent of the crime they were convicted of.
For example: Former Bush administration aide Scooter Libby was convicted of lying to the FBI about the leak of the name of Valerie Plame, a CIA agent. When Trump pardoned Libby April 13, the White House cited "credible evidence" of Libby's innocence, including the recanted testimony of a New York Times reporter who testified against him.
In negotiations with Nixon over his pardon in 1974, Ford insisted that Nixon's acceptance of the pardon carry an acknowledgement of guilt. But Nixon put out a statement that said only that he was "wrong in not acting more decisively and more forthrightly in dealing with Watergate."
Can the president pardon someone who's no longer living?
For a long time, it was widely accepted that a pardon must be accepted in order to be valid. That held up the possibility that someone who'd dead could accept a pardon.
But Clinton broke that taboo in 1999, when he pardoned Lt. Henry Ossian Flipper, the first African-American graduate of West Point and commander of the famed "Buffalo Soldiers" who fought in the Indian Wars.
More: A Trump pardon for boxer Jack Johnson would be just the third posthumous pardon in history
Since then, there have been two more posthumous pardons: President George W. Bush pardoned Charlie Winters, a government procurement officer charged with providing bombers to the Israeli Air Force, in 2008. And Trump pardoned former heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson on May 24.
Those pardons were initiated by the White House. The Office of the Pardon Attorney will not accept petitions for posthumous pardons.
Who else has the pardon power?
Every state constitution allows for some form of executive clemency for state crimes.
In 29 states, the power is similar to the president's: The governor alone makes the decision. In the remaining states, the governor shares the power with a clemency board, or the clemency board has the power without the governor, according to the American Bar Association.
Can Congress overturn a pardon?
No. The power is reserved exclusively to the president.
Still, Congress has tried to exercise influence over the pardon process in two ways: setting the budget for the Office of the Pardon Attorney, and conducting oversight on controversial presidential pardons.
In 2002, the House Oversight Committee investigated the President Clinton's pardons of Marc Rich and Pincus Green, two financiers who fled the country after being indicted (by Giuliani, then a U.S. attorney) of tax evasion and defying sanctions against Iran. The committee's report called the pardons "outrageous" and an abuse of his power, but concluded that "the nation must live with the consequences of them."
In 2015, the House of Representatives agreed to an amendment that would have barred Justice Department attorneys from working on Obama's clemency initiative, but the bill didn't pass.
Can a court overturn a pardon?
No. Court cases that have reviewed pardons have been concerned only with whether the pardon was properly delivered and accepted.
What impact does a pardon have on state crimes?
A president can't pardon state crimes directly, but some states would observe the effect of pardon on a state crime where there is both state and federal jurisdiction.
New York is one of those states. New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood has asked the state legislature to change that provision, to allow the state to prosecute someone for a state crime even if Trump granted a pardon for a federal crime.
"Closing the loophole would ensure that individuals who broke New York law could not evade accountability for any state crimes as a result of a strategically-timed pardon by the president," she said.
Can a president revoke a pardon?
It depends. Once a pardon has been received, it's probably irreversible.
But there have been cases in which presidents have announced a pardon only to take it back before the paperwork was completed. In 2008, President George W. Bush pardoned Isaac Robert Toussie, a real estate developer convicted of mail fraud for making false statements in federal loan applications.
Bush later learned that Toussie's father was a major GOP donor and revoked the pardon. He could do that the president's pardon warrant only "directs and empowers" the pardon attorney to sign the grant of clemency, which hadn't been done yet.
How is Trump using the pardon power differently from his predecessors?
Trump has gotten an earlier start on exercising his pardon power than any president since George H.W. Bush. The three presidents in between waited until the end of their second year to grant their first pardon.
He's also circumvented his own Justice Department in granting the pardons. It's unclear to what extent Trump may have consulted the Justice Department, but none of his pardons applied through the regular Justice Department process.
More: Analysis: Trump's bold Joe Arpaio pardon breaks with presidential tradition
And he has telegraphed and explained his pardons more so than recent presidents, often tweeting about them publicly before they're granted.
Did the founders intend for the pardon power to be used in cases of treason?
Yes. After the drafting of the Constitution, there was debate about whether the president should need the agreement of Congress in order to pardon someone for treason. Hamilton, in Federalist No. 74, noted that "a single man of prudence and good sense is better fitted" to make that determination than Congress.
And indeed, President George Washington's very first use of executive clemency came in pardoning men convicted of treason in the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791.