CNN anchor Jim Acosta raised former President Ford’s pardon of his predecessor, former President Nixon, in questioning former President Trump’s assertion of having total immunity from prosecution for his conduct in office on Sunday.
Acosta asked his guest, former White House ethics head Norm Eisen, about the reasoning for a pardon if presidents could not be criminally prosecuted for their actions in office.
“If presidents have absolute immunity, I suppose, why did Ford ever pardon Nixon? How is it they can just argue they have absolute immunity?” Acosta asked.
Eisen said Trump’s argument is an “astonishing proposition.” If the argument were accepted, the consequences would be extensive and allow presidents to commit a wide range of crimes while in office, he said.
“If presidents had absolute immunity, Jim, presidential elections would become a stampede for the criminally minded so they can get to the Oval Office,” Eisen said. “It’s not just election overturned. Where would it stop? They could do bank robberies, kidnappings, murders. That is inimical to American law.”
Trump has requested that the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals dismiss the federal election interference case against him, arguing that he should have total immunity for actions he took while in office. Federal Judge Tanya Chutkan has already rejected this argument, but Trump has appealed.
The former president is facing four felony counts related to his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, including conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction of and attempting to obstruct an official proceeding.
He has pleaded not guilty to all charges but also argued that he should be immune from prosecution because the acts mentioned in the indictment were taken while he was president.
Special counsel Jack Smith requested that the Supreme Court step in to rule on Trump’s immunity argument to keep the case on track to begin in March, but the court declined to take it up for now.
Eisen said “no hint” of any absolute immunity exists anywhere in the Constitution, history or court precedent. He said Nixon would have refused to resign if Trump’s argument was correct because he would have wanted to try to use his absolute immunity to protect himself.
Ford pardoned Nixon in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal and Nixon’s resignation for any crimes he may have committed while in office.
Eisen said Trump’s argument is “not about winning” but rather “running out the clock” on the criminal cases against him ahead of the 2024 presidential election in November.
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