Washington, D.C. – Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening remarks, as prepared, during the markup of H.R. 7694, the Abuse of the Pardon Prevention Act:
"The Trump Administration has exposed certain holes in the fabric of our democracy by engaging in conduct that was once unthinkable. One area in which it has shredded basic norms that have governed our Nation for centuries is in its use of the pardon power.
"H.R. 7694, the 'Abuse of the Pardon Prevention Act,' would bring essential transparency and would reaffirm existing legal standards with respect to some of the most troubling abuses of the pardon power that we have seen during this Administration.
"Introduced by our colleague, Chairman Adam Schiff, and myself, H.R. 7694 would require much-needed transparency if the President issues a pardon or commutation in circumstances that may involve corrupt self-dealing, or if the President issues clemency for an offense that undermines the integrity of Congress’s own proceedings.
"More specifically, these transparency requirements would apply if the President issues a pardon or commutation for an offense arising from an investigation that implicates the President or one of his family members. The transparency requirements would also apply if the President issues a pardon or commutation for an offense against Congress—such as perjury or false statements before Congress, obstruction of Congress, or contempt of Congress.
"In these circumstances, the Justice Department would be required to disclose its underlying investigative files to the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees—and to the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees if the offense involved an intelligence or counterintelligence matter. The Justice Department and the White House would also be required to disclose all materials relating to their considerations of the pardon or commutation.
"Furthermore, H.R. 7694 would make explicit what is already commonly understood—that abuse of the pardon power can constitute a criminal offense under the federal anti-bribery law. It reaffirms that covered public officials include the President and the Vice President. It also makes explicit that a pardon, or the offer of a pardon, does constitute an “official act” under the law and places greater emphasis on the fact that they constitute a 'thing of value' in certain circumstances. In other words, it reaffirms what we all know—that the President cannot trade pardons in exchange for personal favors.
"It is a sad day in our democracy when Congress has to make explicit that a President cannot abuse his pardon powers for corrupt and self-serving purposes. But President Trump has been fixated on the pardon power as an instrument for his own personal benefit since early in his Administration and it is important to reaffirm certain basic principles.
"The record makes clear that the President repeatedly dangled the possibility of pardons for witnesses like Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, and Roger Stone—as well as for Michael Cohen, before Cohen chose to cooperate with law enforcement. These were all witnesses in an investigation implicating the President personally as well as several of his family members.
"President Trump delivered on this promise to Roger Stone—who was convicted by a jury for obstruction of Congress, witness intimidation, and multiple counts of making false statements in connection with an investigation that implicated the President himself in potential criminal conduct.
"In fact, Stone has bragged how he resisted pressure to 'flip' and testify against the President—and the President has publicly congratulated him for having the “guts” not to cooperate with federal law enforcement. Now, Stone has been rewarded handsomely for his silence.
"This legislation is not just about President Trump, however—it is about the presidency.
"To be sure, no President before him has made such troubling use of the pardon power. But for better or worse, President Trump has made it necessary to make explicit rules that his predecessors followed as matters of common sense and basic respect for our constitutional system, and his pattern of behavior has made several principles clear. Those principles are reflected in this legislation:
"First, Congress should be entitled to scrutinize potential abuses of the pardon power, including in instances where pardons were potentially issued for corrupt purposes. You do not need to take my word for it. Consider the words of then-Representative Lindsey Graham in 2001, when Congress was investigating President Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich.
"As Graham said to a reporter, 'The role of Congress is part of a check-and-balance scheme.The power to pardon comes from the Constitution.It is important that Congress, even though we can’t change the outcome, create a historical record to make sure that if it is an abuse of power, that it not happen again, and our role in the check-and-balance scheme is to review the conduct of the most powerful man in the country, regardless of party.'
"I would note that when then-President Clinton pardoned Marc Rich—a pardon I did not support—the Republican Congress did engage in aggressive oversight and White House and Justice Department officials did testify before Congress.
"Second, for similar reasons, Congress has a vital interest in scrutinizing pardons for offenses that undermine the integrity of Congress’s own proceedings. Consider the case of Roger Stone, who was convicted for lying repeatedly to Congress, for obstructing Congress, and for intimidating a witness before Congress.
"When the President pardons such offenses, he threatens Congress’s ability to exercise its own constitutional functions, including its vital functions of conducting hearings and obtaining testimony from witnesses.
"Third, while Congress is limited in its ability to circumscribe the pardon power directly, nothing in the Constitution allows the President to use his pardon power as an instrument for committing a crime. As Attorney General Barr himself acknowledged during his confirmation hearing, existing law makes it a crime for the President to offer a pardon in exchange for a witness’s silence. H.R. 7694 simply reaffirms that abuse of the pardon power can form the basis of a bribery scheme.
"These principles should apply to President Trump and to any future President. No President should feel entitled to use his or her pardon power for personal benefit, or in a manner that undermines Congress. And no President should trade on the pardon power as part of a bribery scheme.
"It is unfortunate that we have reached a point where this legislation is necessary. But we must not shrink from doing our duty to ensure that no President—now or in the future—can abuse his or her office in the manner we have witnessed in recent months and years.
"I strongly support H.R. 7694 and I urge the Committee to report it favorably to the House."