Trump mulls preemptive pardons for up to 20 allies, even as Republicans balk

Source: Politico | December 3, 2020 | Anita Kumar and Andrew Desiderio

The clemency would be unprecedented, and some Republicans are expressing initial hesitation. But they’re not telling Trump to stop.

President Donald Trump is considering preemptively pardoning as many as 20 aides and associates before leaving office, frustrating Republicans who believe offering legal reprieves to his friends and family members could backfire.

Trump’s strategy, like much of his presidency, is nontraditional. He is eschewing the typical protocol of processing cases through the Justice Department. And he may argue that such preemptive pardons for his friends and family members are necessary to spare them from paying millions in legal fees to fight what he describes as witch hunts. Those up for clemency include everyone from Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to several members of his family — all people who haven’t been charged with a crime. Weighing on Trump’s mind is whether these pardons would look like an admission of guilt.

Republicans, as they often have when Trump appears about to bulldoze through another norm, are expressing some initial hesitation — but they’re not telling him to stop.

“That is in a category that I think you’d probably run into a lot of static,” said Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.). “That’s charting new territory, I’m guessing. I don’t think that’s ever been attempted before.”

The result is yet another looming showdown between Trump and the broader Republican Party.

And the potential squabble has taken on added significance as Trump prepares to leave the White House next month. The GOP is grappling with how closely it wants to remain aligned with Trump after his presidency. While the president has turned off voters with his controversial actions — including his past use of the pardon power to spare allies — he retains a loyal following and is mulling a 2024 presidential run. More imminently, Republicans need Trump’s base to turn out in the Jan. 5 Georgia Senate runoff elections, which will decide which party controls the Senate.

GOP senators said Trump would be stepping on political landmines if he grants clemency to his family and associates, even as they noted presidents have broad pardon authority. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), a Trump ally and a former state attorney general, acknowledged that such a move by the president would be unprecedented.

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Roughly 20 top aides and associates are on tap for a potential pardon, though the list is evolving, according to one of the people. The list includes Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, who run the family’s namesake business, and Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, a husband-and-wife duo who are both senior aides at the White House. All four were involved in Trump’s reelection campaign.

Trump has even mused on Twitter that he has “the absolute right to PARDON” myself — a legally contested (but untested) claim.

Still, Trump is hesitant to pardon any of them, particularly Giuliani, because it may appear that members of his inner circle are criminals, said one of the three people, who spoke to Trump this week. The Giuliani pardon has been discussed more seriously, the person added.

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But the clemency would not extend to any state charges, congressional investigations or lawsuits — of which there are plenty.

The New York attorney general and the Manhattan district attorney, for example, have been investigating the Trump Organization for possible financial fraud. D.C. authorities also sued the Trump Organization and Trump’s inaugural committee, alleging the committee misused funds and funneled money back to Trump’s company. Ivanka Trump gave a deposition in that suit earlier this week.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), like other Democrats, has described the possibility of these preemptive parsons as “a gross abuse of the presidential pardon authority.”

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As for Trump himself, lawyers continue to debate whether a president can pardon himself. But they generally agree a president can pardon individuals preemptively, though it’s not done often. Even the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney indicates it would be “highly unusual.”

Past presidents have done it, though — the most famous example being President Gerald Ford’s preemptive pardon of Richard Nixon following the Watergate scandal.

“There’s no doubt that this is not what clemency is intended for,” said Mark Osler, a former federal prosecutor and clemency expert who serves as a law professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis. “It’s bad for the institution of clemency and the good that it can do. But that’s a different question about whether or not it’s illegal.”

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In many cases, Trump has bypassed the lengthy, multi-level process for clemency that has been conducted at the Justice Department for more than a century. Instead, he has made decisions himself in consultation with a handful of aides.

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“If you simply turn back on that regular process [and say], ‘I’m going to get my recommendations from Fox News and campaign donors who managed to make it into the Oval Office and anybody else who wants to bring me a case, no, I don’t think that’s right,” said Margaret Love, a former U.S. pardon attorney who now represents applicants for presidential pardon. “That’s ignoring the regular process and the ordinary people who don’t have that kind of access.”

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  • Consistent #45170

    EVERYDAY #45173

    This would be the “middle finger” to all of us who didn’t vote for his second four years. And while the Republicans might do some mild protesting publicly, they are really ok with this, just as they have been with all of Trump’s shenanigans for the past four years.

    ConservativeGranny #45187

    He is not pardoning these people as a gift to them. He is pardoning them to keep them quiet. The only ones he probably cares about going to jail are his own kids. To the rest I don’t believe he gives a hoot. Just wants to keep them from telling what they know.

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