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Asked about Trump's pardon power, Cruz offers 18 seconds of silence

Reporters asked Ted Cruz if Donald Trump is right about having an "absolute right" to pardon himself. It didn't go especially well.
Sen. Ted Cruz speaks with Donald Trump during a Tea Party Patriots rally against the Iran nuclear deal on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Sept. 9, 2015. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Bloomberg/Getty)
Sen. Ted Cruz speaks with Donald Trump during a Tea Party Patriots rally against the Iran nuclear deal on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Sept. 9, 2015.

The evolution of Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-Texas) perspective on Donald Trump has been amazing to watch. In June 2015, for example, the month Trump launched his candidacy, the Texas Republican declared, "I like Donald Trump. I think he's terrific.... I think he speaks the truth."

Asked about Trump's racist antics, Cruz added soon after, "He has a colorful way of speaking. It is not the way I speak. But I'm not going to engage in the media game of throwing rocks and attacking other Republicans. I'm just not going to do it."

That, of course, was when the senator assumed Trump was a sideshow clown whose time in the spotlight would quickly fade. When the reality-show host became the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, and he went after the Texan's family, Cruz's posture changed. Indeed, as their rivalry intensified, Cruz told Americans that Trump is a “pathological liar,” a “bully,” a “narcissist,” “utterly amoral,” and my personal favorite, a “sniveling coward.”

But now that the senator is running for re-election, Cruz has come full circle, deciding to reinvent himself as a presidential ally, his previous condemnations notwithstanding.

But this uneasy alliance is not without challenges. Yesterday, for example, Trump declared he has an "absolute right" to pardon himself -- a claim Cruz surely knows to be wrong. Is he willing to say so? The Weekly Standard  reported overnight:

[W]hen asked whether he agreed with Trump about the president's pardoning ability, Texas senator Ted Cruz fell silent for 18 seconds until, prompted by a reporter, he said that he hadn't studied that particular aspect of constitutional law.

The audio of the exchange, posted by the Weekly Standard's Haley Byrd, is online here. After the Texas senator's 18 seconds of silence, Cruz eventually said, "That is not a constitutional issue I've studied."

As evasive answers go, I've heard worse, but in this case, there's no reason to accept the line at face value.

That's because as recently as 2015, Cruz wrote an article for The Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, exploring in some detail the scope and limits of presidential pardons.

The senator wrote at the time, "The pardon power was not seen as suspension or dispensation. The pardon power carries a scope specifically limited to crimes already committed. The pardon may not apply to acts that have not yet been committed, because it would function as a personal waiver, the impermissible dispensation of the laws."

In practical terms, this is pretty much the opposite of the audacious posture Trump embraced yesterday. Cruz, however, couldn't bring himself to say so, instead falling victim to a convenient memory lapse.

As the senator's comments made the rounds last night, Cruz apparently grew annoyed and blamed "dishonest journalism" for the story.

I can appreciate why the senator finds all of this somewhat embarrassing, but the story isn't the media's fault.