Washington, DC – Activists and lawyers are hoping that US President Donald Trump will sign a string of pardons that could test the limits of that presidential power.
It is believed that Trump could be considering a series of pardons and commutations before leaving office, which could include members of his family, former advisers and even himself. While it’s not unusual for presidents to sign controversial pardons at the end of their term, Trump has made it clear that he has no qualms about intervening in cases of friends and allies he believes have received unfair treatment, such as his former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
The list of possible candidates is long and varied: former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, jailed for financial crimes in the Russia investigation; George Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, as did Flynn; Joseph Maldonado-Passage, known as “Joe Exotic,” who appeared on the Netflix series “Tiger King,” and former contractors convicted of a shooting in Baghdad that killed more than a dozen civilians, including women and children.RELATED
Trump, long concerned about his possible exposure to legal problems when he leaves office, has spoken in recent weeks with people close to him that he fears that he, his family or his businesses could be singled out by the Justice Department during the administration’s tenure. President-elect Joe Biden, even though the latter has made it clear that he would not take part in any such decision.
However, Trump has had informal conversations with allies about how he could protect his family, although he has taken no action. Their adult children have not requested pardons or do not believe they need them, according to people familiar with the conversations who spoke on condition of anonymity to comment on private matters.
Trump has also talked about the possibility of protecting himself, the New York Times first reported. In a video uploaded to Facebook on Wednesday, he made an allusion to his possible vulnerability.
“Now I hear that those same people who failed to catch me in Washington have sent all the information to New York so they can try to catch me there,” he said.
The speculation provoked a preemptive reaction among critics.
“Normally, if someone receives a pardon it suggests that they might have committed a crime. It’s not something I would want to see associated with my family, ”said Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney, a regular critic of Trump.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer condemned the idea of a president asking staff if he can grant himself, his relatives and his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, a pardon, with whom Trump has discussed possible measures.
“There is a simple answer: No. No, Mr. President, that would be a gross abuse of the authority of the presidential pardon,” said Schumer.
Presidents have broad powers to pardon federal crimes. That includes granting clemency to people not yet facing charges, as President Gerald Ford did in 1974 when he pardoned his predecessor, Richard Nixon.
But they cannot grant pardons for state crimes or circumvent the law by pardoning people for crimes that have not yet occurred, according to legal experts. It is unclear whether a president can pardon himself. No one has tried.
An opinion expressed decades ago by the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Advice suggests that presidents cannot pardon themselves because that would imply that they act as judges in their own cases, although it also pointed out that a president could declare himself unfit to serve. , transfer power to his vice president and receive a pardon that way.
Often, leaders make controversial decisions by forgiving friends and donors before leaving office. Bill Clinton forgave wealthy financier Marc Rich, and Ronald Reagan forgave New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. But Trump’s position is notable given the large number of former allies and advisers who have been jailed, prosecuted or facing legal problems.
Among them are Manafort; Manafort number two Rick Gates; longtime Trump friend and adviser Roger Stone; his former chief strategist Steve Bannon, and his former attorney Michael Cohen. Stone and Flynn have already received clemency from Trump.
In most governments, 99% of those who receive pardons are people unknown to the public, while 1% get all the attention, said Michigan State University law professor Brian Kalt. But Trump’s interest in celebrities and well-known people has upended those percentages.
“You can see the appeal of the power of pardon for someone like him,” Kalt said. “It is the only thing that the president orders and is done. You don’t have to deal with ‘state machinery’. It does not have to go through the supervision of Congress or a judicial evaluation ”.
In previous administrations, pardons went through a formal evaluation process at the Justice Department. Attorneys carefully reviewed cases before making recommendations to the White House. Trump has largely abandoned that process, opting instead for a riskier strategy that has benefited hopefuls whose cases had a personal connection to the president or were defended by celebrities like Kim Kardashian West.
As the results of last month’s elections became clearer, hopefuls to be pardoned before Trump leaves office have redoubled their efforts to get the attention of the White House, betting on star attorneys in Washington, doubling their public relations campaigns and, in the case of Papadopoulos, writing a book, appearing on Fox News and speaking to the media.
“I just want the facts about what exactly happened in my situation to be known, and for the American public to determine its logical conclusion. Which I hope is a reprieve. I don’t count on it, but it would be an honor to accept one, ”he told The Associated Press.
Giuliani, meanwhile, has spoken directly to the president about a pardon. The two have had preliminary talks on the matter, but it’s unclear how serious they were.
But beyond the household names are ordinary people behind bars who have tried to argue that they received unfair convictions or deserve a second chance.
“A lot of people are asking for help,” said Alice Marie Johnson, who was serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole until Trump commuted her sentence in 2018, after Kardashian West defended her cause. Trump has since included Johnson’s story in a Super Bowl ad, and this year he pardoned it during the Republican National Convention.
Johnson, who has already campaigned successfully for the president to act on multiple people’s cases, said he had met again with the president at the White House several weeks ago to present several cases, all involving people with “incredible rehabilitations and incredible records in prison ”.
“Personally, I hope to see people at their house before Christmas,” he said. “Families across the country pray for a Christmas miracle.”
The White House did not respond to questions on the matter, and press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said “I have not heard of any clemency mentioned in any conversation I have had with the White House” other than Flynn.
For now, Trump has used his power to pardon less often than any president in modern history, according to Justice Department data gathered by the Pew Research Center.
Based on that data, he has granted clemency 44 times, fewer than any other president since at least William McKinley.
“You have more than 13,000 requests made by these people who met the rules” when filing their petitions, which require other people to write letters on their behalf and wait years for their cases to be processed, said Mark Osler, a former federal prosecutor and professor at the University of St. Thomas. Osler has participated in several meetings at the White House during Trump’s tenure, in which officials raised possible changes to the process.
“For those people who should be free,” he noted, Trump’s strategy of prioritizing family and friends “is a real and profound tragedy.”