MESSAGING

Scaramucci Contradicts Trump Team on Russia Sanctions, Pardons

The incoming White House communications director contradicted Trump’s top spokeswoman and his lawyer on two key issues.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Incoming White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci on Sunday contradicted key messages from President Donald Trump’s White House team and outside legal counsel.

Scaramucci, who made the Sunday show rounds two days after he was officially announced as the next communications chief, offered conflicting accounts of the president’s thought process when it comes to legislation that slaps new sanctions on Russia, as well as reports that Trump may be considering issuing pardons as part of the investigation into Russian election meddling.

Appearing on ABC’s This Week, newly minted White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the Trump administration supports the legislation. The bill imposes new sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea, while handicapping the president’s ability to unilaterally roll back or ramp up those sanctions.

The bill, which will come up for a vote in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, includes a provision that would require Congress to review any attempts by the president to weaken or strengthen the sanctions. The administration has been actively lobbying lawmakers to scrap that measure—but amid Trump’s unwillingness to formally accept the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia meddled in the 2016 election, lawmakers from both parties wouldn’t budge on the administration’s request.

“We support where the legislation is now, and will continue to work with the House and Senate to put those sanctions in place on Russia until the situation in Ukraine is fully resolved,” Sanders said. Even if Trump vetoes the legislation, lawmakers from both parties have expressed confidence that the veto will be overridden. The initial Senate bill passed 98-2.

Scaramucci rebutted Sanders’ account. Appearing on CNN’s State of the Union, Scaramucci said “it’s my second or third day on the job” but “[Trump] hasn’t made the decision yet to sign that bill one way or the other.”

Lawmakers essentially forced Trump into a corner by refusing to back down on the congressional review provision, setting up a potentially awkward presidential veto and subsequent override by Congress.

Past presidents have similarly fought Congress over efforts to cede authority to the legislative branch. But as the president continues to be dogged by allegations that his associates colluded with Russian operatives to tilt the result of the presidential election, a veto on a bill supported by nearly all Republicans and Democrats would be politically toxic for his White House.

On Thursday, The Washington Post reported that Trump’s legal team was exploring strategies to undercut and discredit special counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the federal Russia probe. In particular, the Post reported that the president’s legal team was looking into whether he can pardon his aides, family members, or even himself. Trump kept that speculation alive on Saturday when he wrote on Twitter that he has “the complete power to pardon.”

Jay Sekulow, one of the president’s outside attorneys, disputed the Post’s reporting, saying Trump was not considering granting pardons despite making the suggestion.

“We have not—and continue to not—have conversations with the president of the United States regarding pardons. Pardons have not been discussed. And pardons are not on the table,” Sekulow said on This Week, adding his team of lawyers is “not researching the issue” because “there’s nothing to pardon from.”

Asked whether the president has the constitutional authority to pardon himself, Sekulow said that hypothetical has not been “adjudicated,” adding it would likely need to be decided by the Supreme Court.

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But Scaramucci, who said he spoke to the president on Saturday and was in the Oval Office with him last week, again contradicted a top Trump associate. On Fox News Sunday, Scaramucci said Trump “brought [pardons] up” during their discussions.

He said, but he doesn’t have to be pardoned. There’s nobody around him that has to be pardoned. He was just making the statement about the power of pardons,” Scaramucci said, adding later that Trump wouldn’t pardon himself because “he hasn’t done anything wrong.”

Trump’s tweets have always given the public a window into his thinking on various issues. But Scaramucci said Trump’s tweet about pardons was only meant to assert the president’s authority to grant pardons.

Scaramucci, whose hiring forced the resignation of Sean Spicer as press secretary, officially begins his new role in mid-August.