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What actually are Trump's pardoning powers?

Aides close to Trump say the President is considering pardoning himself in light of the recent attacks on the U.S. Capitol Wednesday afternoon

What actually are Trump's pardoning powers?
Donald Trump beside man in black suit
Photo by History in HD on Unsplash

Updated: January, 7 2021 .

It is absolutely no secret that President Donald Trump will do whatever it takes to prove he is the rightful winner of the 2020 election and must remain in the White House for four more years.

As Trump is entering the final weeks of his presidency, he is expected to make the most out of the presidential tradition of granting pardons. As his presidency quickly comes to and end, Trump has since considered pardons for his children, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and Ivanka Trump , senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, and close associate former NY Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.

He has also considered pardons for himself in light of the recent attacks on the U.S. Capitol Wednesday. Aides close to the president warned him about legal consequences of the attacks considering Trump urged protestors to march to the Capitol beforehand.


Trump—who faces many legal challenges that include fraud allegations and lawsuits— will no longer have access to the expansive legal protection the presidency encompasses once he leaves the White House on January 20.

How does the presidential pardon work?

All of the modern presidents in U.S. history have the constitutional right to pardon or commute the sentence of people who broke federal laws.

The president has the ability to pardon individuals for almost every crime committed in this country. He doesn't have to provide much of a reason for issuing the pardon.

There are a few limitations to this power, however.

For example, the president cannot issue a pardon in the impeachment of other officials.

Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution states all presidents "require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment."

This power is only in federal cases, though.

Even if he were pardoned, he would still face state investigations about his business deals and finances.

Although the presidential pardoning powers are broad, Trump, just like presidents before him, had the ability to pardon friends and family without issues. Earlier this year, he commuted Roger Stone's ( an ally) sentence, who was convicted of lying to Congress and tampering with evidence in 2019.

Trump is not the first president to give out self-serving pardons.

On former President Bill Clinton's last day of office, he pardoned his half-brother Roger Clinton for drug charges after serving a decade earlier. Also, former President George H.W. Bush pardoned six former officials in the Iran-Contra scandal. Bush was even suspected to be involved.

Can Trump honestly pardon himself?

In all of U.S. history, besides now, no president has ever tried to self-pardon, so courts haven't delved into all facets of the issue at hand. Regardless, over the years, Trump has insisted that he has the "absolute right" to pardon himself if need be.

Members of Trump's legal team looked into the president's legalities, pardoning not himself and family just in case something particularly incriminating were to emerge from special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigations. Collectively, experts and the general public could agree that self-pardoning comes off unconstitutional because no one should judge his or her own case. People are always going to paint themselves in the best light, proclaiming innocence.

In 1974, before former President Richard Nixon could resign after facing impeachment for the Watergate scandal, the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel created a memo saying "under the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case, the President cannot pardon himself."

Nixon's former Vice President and successor, Gerald Ford, ended up pardoning any federal crimes he may have committed during his term.

If this is not the power of friendship, I don't know what is.


Is there any way that Vice President Mike Pence can pardon Trump?

Even though the justice department said that Nixon could not pardon himself, it also lay down an unexpected alternative that Trump could also opt to step down temporarily (Pence becomes the 46th president), and then granted a pardon by Pence. Trump could then regain power all over again.

The U.S. Constitution's 25th amendment also allows a president to temporarily resign and hand over the candidacy to the Vice President, who will act on his behalf until he returns to office. There is a possibility that Trump could resign before Inauguration Day after concocting a deal with Pence.

However, an agreement like this could put Trump in more trouble then he might already be in. For one, it would violate the U.S. federal bribery statute, which states that any public official can be faced with criminal charges if he or she "directly or indirectly, corruptly gives, offers or promises anything of value to anyone who is a public official or who has been selected to be a public official or offers or promises any public official..."

This deal is a blatant admission of guilt that I don't think Trump could ever bring himself to do.

What presidential pardons has Trump already issued?

Trump has issued an array of presidential pardons that were a bit controversial since he started his term. Trump pardoned people such as right-wing author and filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza , Joe Arpaio, the former Maricopa County Sheriff, who was found guilty of being in contempt of court for blatantly ignoring a federal judge's order to stop arresting immigrants due to suspicions that they are in the U.S. illegally, and Michael Flynn, his former national security advisor who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

Despite this, not all of his pardons were as problematic. Some were highly recognized and celebrated as a triumph. Earlier this year, as concerns were raised by reality TV star and businesswoman Kim Kardashian West surrounding Alice Marie Johnson, a woman who received a life sentence for first-time drug offenses, Trump granted her a full pardon.

Also, with the advice of actor Sylvester Stallone, he granted a posthumous pardon to Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight boxing champion, who was jailed over a hundred years ago for violating the Mann Act ( also known as 'White Slave Traffic Act') by crossing state lines with his white girlfriend. The Mann Act was intended to prevent people from being human trafficked or prostituted.

Still, many speculate ( as do I) that this was used to criminalize African-Americans or those with different political ideologies, stripping them away from everything that they worked for, just like Johnson having his boxing career destroyed for no reason.

In addition, there has been speculation on whether or not Trump would pardon surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden.

"Many people think that he should be somehow treated differently and other people think he did very bad things. I'm going to take a look at that very strongly," Trump said when asked about the matter.

Some Republicans are divided and taken aback by this idea.

More recently, Trump issued a copious amount of other pardons (26 new ones at that), some of which are controversial such as the pardoning of Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, and Charles Kushner.

Can Trump pardon his children?

According to The Guardian, Trump played around with the idea of giving pardons to his loved ones after concerns that Biden's Justice Departments might seek out Donald Trump Jr. for retributions.

Donald Trump jr. was brought up in Robert Mueller's investigation for offering damaging information about Hillary Clinton in the 2016 campaign. It's not entirely clear about Eric or Ivanka Trump's crimes, although attorneys have deposed Ivanka Trump in connection to misused donor funds from Trump's 2017 inauguration committee. Jared Kushner was also reported to have provided false information to federal authorities pertaining to security clearance, but he still received clearance from the president.

Due to these instances, discussions have been circulating about his three children's potential pardoning. Rumors of pardon bribery investigations are also causing a stir.

Trump has denied these allegations, even tweeting Tuesday night, "Pardon Investigation is Fake News."

In an article on Reuters, it states that it is legal for Trump to pardon his children and the associates in his immediate circle, but the power itself is not absolute. He doesn't have to give him a reason for issuing one, nor does it have to be reviewed by other government branches. It may wipe out criminal convictions but not federal crimes.

Could a presidential pardon completely protect Trump?

No, a presidential pardon wouldn't completely protect Trump. Presidential pardons only apply to federal crimes, so Trump and the rest of the administration won't be protected from the criminal investigation conducted by Cyrus Vance Jr., a Manhattan District Attorney. The particular probe is looking into the alleged bank and insurance fraud by Trump and his many companies.

But a presidential pardon will erase a criminal conviction for any possible federal crime. According to legal experts, it makes the most sense for Trump to embark on this route to defend himself if he were convicted of a federal crime.

All in all, Trump hasn't really indicated how he might use his pardon power within the next couple of months, nor has this stopped the speculation about President-elect Joe Biden pardoning Trump next year (this has been debunked).

We're just going to have to wait and see. I'll have my popcorn ready to watch the show.

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