PHOTO: Photo Illustration: Getty Images / CNN
Now playing
03:06
Trump issues pardon and teases more to come
President Donald Trump addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
PHOTO: Richard Drew/AP
President Donald Trump addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Now playing
02:17
Trump claim to world leaders met with laughter
PHOTO: CNNMoney
Now playing
06:22
How Trump's tweet sparked #WhyIDidntReport
President Donald Trump points to the crowd after speaking to law enforcement officials on the street gang MS-13, Friday, July 28, 2017, in Brentwood, N.Y.
PHOTO: Evan Vucci/AP
President Donald Trump points to the crowd after speaking to law enforcement officials on the street gang MS-13, Friday, July 28, 2017, in Brentwood, N.Y.
Now playing
01:46
Trump's I'm-joking-but-not-really strategy
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 15:  U.S. President Donald Trump listens to a question as he speaks to members of the White House Press Corps prior to his Marine One departure from the South Lawn of the White House December 15, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Alex Wong/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 15: U.S. President Donald Trump listens to a question as he speaks to members of the White House Press Corps prior to his Marine One departure from the South Lawn of the White House December 15, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:20
Trump often says he's 'the least racist person'
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
01:00
Trump on Manafort: I feel sad about that
PHOTO: Pool
Now playing
01:22
Trump on Cordray: He was groomed by 'Pocahontas'
Now playing
05:58
Baldwin: This face behind Trump startled me
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
02:01
Trump responds to op-ed: 'Gutless'
PHOTO: CNN Illustration/Getty Images
Now playing
03:18
Why Woodward's book matters
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
01:13
Dean: Trump acts 'frighteningly dictatorial'
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 08:  U.S. President Donald Trump announces his decision to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in the Diplomatic Room at the White House May 8, 2018 in Washington, DC. After two and a half years of negotiations, Iran agreed in 2015 to end its nuclear program in exchange for Western countries, including the United States, lifting decades of economic sanctions. Since then international inspectors have not found any violations of the terms by Iran.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 08: U.S. President Donald Trump announces his decision to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in the Diplomatic Room at the White House May 8, 2018 in Washington, DC. After two and a half years of negotiations, Iran agreed in 2015 to end its nuclear program in exchange for Western countries, including the United States, lifting decades of economic sanctions. Since then international inspectors have not found any violations of the terms by Iran. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:31
Woodward book reveals 'crazytown' White House
PHOTO: CNN Illustration/Getty Images
Now playing
03:03
Trump's latest Twitter tirade lashes at media
TOPSHOT - US President Donald Trump waits to speak during a memorial service at the Pentagon for the 9/11 terrorist attacks  September 11, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski        (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOT - US President Donald Trump waits to speak during a memorial service at the Pentagon for the 9/11 terrorist attacks September 11, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:57
Trump warns of violence if GOP loses midterms
PHOTO: Photo Illustration: Getty Images/CNN Business
Now playing
01:40
Trump: Impeach somebody who's done great job?
PHOTO: Fox News Channel
Now playing
01:19
Trump on Sessions: What kind of man is this?
(CNN) —  

There are multiple explanations for President Donald Trump’s latest pardon storm but they are all rooted in a defining character trait – his relish for wielding unchecked power.

By expunging the conviction of conservative filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza, and by hinting at more controversial pardons to come, Trump is showing his willingness to test the limits of his power and to crush the conventions and unwritten restraints surrounding the Oval Office.

Critics are protesting that his move reveals political shallowness, subverts the justice system and sends a message to aides under duress from special counsel Robert Mueller.

But Trump seems to be saying,”I have this power, so why not use it?”

The President’s D’Souza pardon, and possible pardon for Martha Stewart and commutation for Rod Blagojevich, is not part of a larger strategy to send a signal to Mueller and fired FBI Director James Comey, a senior White House official told CNN’s Pamela Brown.

The official said that often people will bring up potential pardons to the President’s attention and then he’ll start floating the idea internally. The official added, though, that Trump naming Stewart and Blagojevich came as a surprise to staffers.

The question is not whether Trump did anything wrong legally, but whether his use of this supreme authority is timely and appropriate.

The first thing to note is that he is acting in line with Article II of the Constitution, which gives the President power to “grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.”

That authority represents one of the most unfettered powers granted to the commander in chief – one reason why presidents have often been careful in its use, frequently waiting until the dying hours of their administrations to grant their most contentious pardons.

Trump has not shown much interest in the idea that the office of the presidency itself is sacred and in need of protection. And he seems perfectly OK using its trappings as a vessel for advancing personal or political interests.

07:52 - Source: CNN
Fmr federal prosecutor: Trump's pardons have a pattern

Unchecked power?

The D’Souza pardon adds to growing questions, including Trump’s attacks on the Justice Department and the FBI, about the President’s willingness to submit to checks on his own authority.

“I think the President is beyond just messaging – I think he is testing the boundaries of the presidency,” Carrie Cordero, a former counsel to the assistant attorney general for national security, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.

“I think he is trying to use the presidency, potentially in ways that we have not seen in modern times,” Cordero said, noting that most other presidents since the end of the 19th century used the Justice Department to review pardon decisions.

A Justice Department spokesman told CNN Thursday that Trump did not run the pardon through the agency’s Office of the Pardon Attorney, as was also the case for the controversial pardons of Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby and former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

“What this President has done, which we have not seen in centuries, literally, is the President making unilateral decisions … absolutely 100% bypassing any of that policy process. I think he is looking for ways to expand his presidency and he is seeing how far the other branches of government are going to let him get away with it,” said Cordero.

Corey Brettschneider, a constitutional law professor at Brown University and Fordham Law School, said pardon power is meant to be a merciful gesture to those who have suffered at the hands of the law.

“Part of the idea of mercy is showing regard for others rather than self-interest,” he said. “The worry is that these pardons are not about that – they are about the President’s own ambitions and own desire to show his own power and his desire not to be subservient to laws or constitutional ideas.

“I worry that it is a kind of threat gesture and he is going to use the powers to the presidency as far as he is going to take them,” added Brettschneider, author of the forthcoming book “The Oath and the Office.”

01:30 - Source: CNN
The media strategy behind Trump's pardons
President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with Joshua Holt, who was recently released from a prison in Venezuela, in the Oval Office of the White House, Saturday, May 26, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
PHOTO: Alex Brandon/AP
President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with Joshua Holt, who was recently released from a prison in Venezuela, in the Oval Office of the White House, Saturday, May 26, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Now playing
01:30
The media strategy behind Trump's pardons
alice marie johnson released from prison trump pardon sot_00000000.jpg
alice marie johnson released from prison trump pardon sot_00000000.jpg
Now playing
01:23
Watch Alice Marie Johnson celebrate freedom
BOONE, IA - JANUARY 4:   Republican presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) visits King's Christian Bookstore on January 4, 2016 in Boone, Iowa. Cruz began a six-day bus tour of Iowa ahead of the state's February 1, caucuses.  (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
BOONE, IA - JANUARY 4: Republican presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) visits King's Christian Bookstore on January 4, 2016 in Boone, Iowa. Cruz began a six-day bus tour of Iowa ahead of the state's February 1, caucuses. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:06
Ted Cruz speechless for 18 seconds after question
PHOTO: Getty Images/AP
Now playing
01:52
Trump considering pardon for Martha Stewart
PHOTO: Photo Illustration: Getty Images / CNN
Now playing
03:06
Trump issues pardon and teases more to come
President Donald Trump speaks during a ceremonial swearing in for new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the State Department, Wednesday, May 2, 2018, in Washington. (AP/Evan Vucci)
PHOTO: Evan Vucci/AP
President Donald Trump speaks during a ceremonial swearing in for new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the State Department, Wednesday, May 2, 2018, in Washington. (AP/Evan Vucci)
Now playing
02:39
How far does Trump's pardoning power go?
Scooter Libby arrives on December 3, 2015, during a dedication ceremony hosted by the US Senate at Emancipation Hall of the US Capitol Visitor Center in Washington, DC. The ceremony unveiled a bust of former US Vice President Dick Cheney, who as vice president, also served as President of the Senate.    AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP / BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI        (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
PHOTO: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Scooter Libby arrives on December 3, 2015, during a dedication ceremony hosted by the US Senate at Emancipation Hall of the US Capitol Visitor Center in Washington, DC. The ceremony unveiled a bust of former US Vice President Dick Cheney, who as vice president, also served as President of the Senate. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP / BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:26
Trump pardons Scooter Libby
Dinesh D'souza speaks at CPAC 2016 conference, March 5, 2016 in National Harbor, Maryland to promote his new film called The Secret History Of The Democratic Party (Photo by Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto) (Photo by NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
PHOTO: Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto/Getty Images
Dinesh D'souza speaks at CPAC 2016 conference, March 5, 2016 in National Harbor, Maryland to promote his new film called The Secret History Of The Democratic Party (Photo by Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto) (Photo by NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Now playing
01:11
Trump announces plans to pardon Dinesh D'Souza
FILE - In this Jan. 26, 2016 file photo, then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is joined by Joe Arpaio, the sheriff of metro Phoenix, at a campaign event in Marshalltown, Iowa. Trump was just a few weeks into his candidacy in 2015 when came to Phoenix for a speech that ended up being a bigger moment in his campaign than most people realized at the time. And now Trump is coming back to Arizona at another crucial moment in his presidency. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)
PHOTO: Mary Altaffer/AP
FILE - In this Jan. 26, 2016 file photo, then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is joined by Joe Arpaio, the sheriff of metro Phoenix, at a campaign event in Marshalltown, Iowa. Trump was just a few weeks into his candidacy in 2015 when came to Phoenix for a speech that ended up being a bigger moment in his campaign than most people realized at the time. And now Trump is coming back to Arizona at another crucial moment in his presidency. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)
Now playing
00:59
President Trump pardons Sheriff Joe Arpaio
commuted prisoners recall white house visit origwx allee_00001617.jpg
commuted prisoners recall white house visit origwx allee_00001617.jpg
Now playing
02:00
Commuted prisoners recall White House visit
nr intv kavinoky arkansas governor to pardon son _00001708.jpg
PHOTO: KATV
nr intv kavinoky arkansas governor to pardon son _00001708.jpg
Now playing
02:56
Governor: He was embarrassed, he still is
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
01:08
Bharara: Libby pardon a political message
PHOTO: AP
Now playing
01:46
Alan Turing's family demands pardons for 49,000 men
sylvester stallone Trump pardon
PHOTO: CNN
sylvester stallone Trump pardon
Now playing
03:31
Trump pardons late boxer with Sylvester Stallone
Ben Chavis speaks at a news conference in 1978 the day after Gov. Jim Hunt's decision to reduce the sentences of the Wilmington 10. Hunt refused to pardon the group.
PHOTO: Raleigh News & Observer/MCT/LANDOV
Ben Chavis speaks at a news conference in 1978 the day after Gov. Jim Hunt's decision to reduce the sentences of the Wilmington 10. Hunt refused to pardon the group.
Now playing
01:48
'Pardon doesn't remove injustice'
Dinesh D'souza speaks at CPAC 2016 conference, March 5, 2016 in National Harbor, Maryland to promote his new film called The Secret History Of The Democratic Party (Photo by Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto) (Photo by NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
PHOTO: Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto/Getty Images
Dinesh D'souza speaks at CPAC 2016 conference, March 5, 2016 in National Harbor, Maryland to promote his new film called The Secret History Of The Democratic Party (Photo by Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto) (Photo by NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Now playing
01:11
Trump announces plans to pardon Dinesh D'Souza
President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with Joshua Holt, who was recently released from a prison in Venezuela, in the Oval Office of the White House, Saturday, May 26, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
PHOTO: Alex Brandon/AP
President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with Joshua Holt, who was recently released from a prison in Venezuela, in the Oval Office of the White House, Saturday, May 26, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Now playing
01:30
The media strategy behind Trump's pardons