Matt Kwong, “Trump Muses About Pardoning Himself, Experts on Authoritarians are Horrified,” CBC News

Whether or not Trump really has the constitutional right to grant himself clemency is beside the point for some critics. That the president is publicly flexing these powers in the first place is more troubling for New York University professor Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a scholar on fascism and authoritarian leaders.

“It’s in the tradition of the trial balloons he’s been launching since his campaign, which warn the public and his GOP allies that he feels he’s above the law,” she said.

Trump’s tweet followed Giuliani’s comments over the weekend that the president couldn’t be prosecuted, even “if he shot James Comey,” the former FBI director who Trump fired amid the bureau’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Impeachment would be the only remedy to bring charges against the president, Giuliani argued.

“I lost sleep about this last night, which is rare for me,” Ben-Ghiat said of Giuliani’s remarks. The language echoed Trump’s campaign boast in January 2016 that he “could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody without losing voters.”

Political enemies of Russian President and former KGB agent Vladimir Putin often end up dead. Putin adopted a law in 2006 permitting extrajudicial killings abroad.

Ben-Ghiat compared the violent imagery about Comey to the chilling populist speeches Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte delivered during his campaign to wipe out crime by killing drug dealers. “If I become president, it would be bloody, because we’ll order the killing of all criminals,” Duterte said.

That’s an extreme case, but Ben-Ghiat interprets Trump’s self-pardons tweet as the president exploring the limits of his authority with his base.

“It’s meant to introduce into public discourse unthinkable ideas, and to start working on the public to make those ideas acceptable.”

Matt Kwong, CBC News
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