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Trump says he has ‘complete power’ to pardon

President Trump attended the commissioning of the USS Gerald R. Ford in Norfolk, Va., on Saturday.
President Trump attended the commissioning of the USS Gerald R. Ford in Norfolk, Va., on Saturday.Mark Wilson/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — President Trump on Saturday asserted the “complete power to pardon” relatives, aides, and possibly even himself in response to investigations into Russia’s meddling in last year’s election.

In a series of early morning messages on Twitter, Trump also came to the defense of Attorney General Jeff Sessions just days after expressing regret about appointing him.

The president suggested that he had no need to use the pardon power at this point because he believes no crimes occurred, but he left the option open.

While presidents have the authority to pardon others for federal crimes, legal scholars debate whether a president can pardon himself. Trump’s use of the word “complete” seemed to suggest he did not see a limit to that authority.

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“While all agree the US president has the complete power to pardon, why think of that when only crime so far is leaks against us,” he wrote on Twitter. “Fake news.”

The Washington Post reported in recent days that Trump and advisers had discussed pardons as a special counsel intensifies his investigation into whether associates of Trump and his campaign conspired with Russia to intervene in the 2016 presidential campaign.

The president also responded to another article by The Post reporting that Sessions may have discussed campaign activities and policy with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, last year, despite his public statements claiming otherwise.

The Post cited intercepted communications between Kislyak and his home office in Moscow.

Trump excoriated the newspaper and expressed no concern about his attorney general’s conduct.

“A new intelligence leak from the Amazon Washington Post, this time against A.G. Jeff Sessions,” Trump wrote. “These illegal leaks, like Comey’s, must stop!”

The president was equating the report in The Post, which is owned by Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, to a decision by James Comey, the FBI director Trump fired, to leak contents of a memo he wrote describing a conversation he had with the president. Comey has said the memo was unclassified and therefore not illegal to disclose.

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The Post reported that Kislyak told superiors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow, with Sessions during the campaign, contrary to Sessions’ public assertions.

Sessions, who was advising Trump on foreign policy at the time, met at least twice with Kislyak and failed to disclose those contacts during confirmation hearings. After news reports about them were published, he said the meetings were not related to the campaign.

Sarah Isgur Flores, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said Sessions stands by his previous assertion that he never had conversations with Russian officials about meddling with the election.

She said Sessions “never met with or had any conversations with any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election.” She did not deny that Sessions discussed campaign or policy issues more generally with Kislyak.

Trump’s tweets came shortly before he flew to Norfolk, Va., where he presided over the commissioning of the USS Gerald R. Ford, the newest aircraft carrier. The $12.9 billion warship was officially turned over to the Navy after years of delays and cost overruns. The ship was to have been completed in 2015.

‘‘Wherever this vessel cuts through the horizon, our allies will rest easy and our enemies will shake with fear because everyone will know that America is coming and America is coming strong,’’ Trump said.

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The tweet about The Post story was followed shortly afterward by another assailing The New York Times. “The Failing New York Times foiled US attempt to kill the single most wanted terrorist, Al-Baghdadi,” he wrote. “Their sick agenda over national security.”

Trump did not specify what he meant, but he may have been referring to a Fox News report, a version of which aired about 25 minutes before the president tweeted, about comments by a top commander at a conference on Friday.

General Tony Thomas, head of the military’s Special Operations Command, said Friday at the Aspen Security Forum that US forces were “particularly close” to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, after a 2015 raid recovered information about the militant group.

“That was a very good lead,” Thomas said, according to the Fox report. “Unfortunately, it was leaked in a prominent national newspaper about a week later and that lead went dead.”

Fox reported that the general appeared to be referring to a Times report in June 2015 that said US intelligence agencies had “extracted valuable information” from the raid.

The Pentagon raised no objections with The Times before the story was published.

More tweets from Trump