Seldom do you get a developing scandal that can easily go by two names each of which is somewhat different. The Trump era is still not over and it is anything but routine. Let’s explore.
Last week the subject of presidential pardons became much more prominent on two fronts. With Mike Flynn’s Thanksgiving present pardon the speculation of who Trump will pardon on the way out and just how he may do it took center stage. Then the New York Times broke the news of federal investigations into a pay-for-presidential pardons scandal. Unfortunately the hard evidence came via a heavily redacted court document. Details are still emerging as of this writing (and probably as of your reading) but what is established is that authorities stumbled across information while investigating another alleged crime.
I have long considered the Trump administration to be basically an organized criminal enterprise so a pay-for- presidential pardons scheme fits right in. Because of redactions the publically available evidence to date does not specifically and unquestionably identify Donald Trump as being involved in the scheme. Of equal importance it does not rule out his involvement either. Keep in mind that as the sitting president he is the only one with presidential pardon power. Trump has long surrounded himself with a cast of unsavory characters and extortion is not above most of them. It is possible that one or more of them were attempting to sell their influence unknown to the boss. Equally possible is that they were doing it on his orders and he expected to piece of the action. Time will answer those questions. This much we do already know: someone(s) was involved in trying to buy and/or sell presidential pardon(s).
Trump has already pardoned several in his periphery who are assumed to know where “some of the bodies are buried”. There are still several more of what can be assumed to be Trump accomplices and/or operatives out there with tales to tell or in Trump’s interest left untold. Trump has displayed disrespect for the law and acknowledged his philosophy of living by the code of the criminal. He has pardoned individuals who also operated that way like Joe Arpaio, Rod Blagojevich and Flynn. (Flynn pardon was also a self-preservation move.)
There has been much talk of preemptive pardons for Donald, Jr., Eric and Ivanka Trump along with Jared Kushner and Rudy Giuliani. (I’ll discuss preemptive pardons below.) Donald, Jr. and Eric weren’t even supposed to be involved in the government. Why would Ivanka, Jared and Rudy want or need presidential pardons if they haven’t broken any federal laws? I don’t want a presidential pardon; I have no need for one.
Would a pardon of Paul Manafort surprise anyone? In fact I will be surprised if it doesn’t happen. I’ll be equally surprises if Manafort is alone in receiving a pardon from Trump.
There are three types of pardons Trump is said to be considering. The first is the regular pardon. You are convicted of a federal crime(s) and you are pardoned of the offense(s). This is pretty clear cut.
The next is a preemptive pardon. It is kind of like a get out of jail free card for any federal crimes you may have committed. The model for this is Gerald Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon. While there is a history (the Ford- Nixon pardon) it has never been tested in court and therefore there is no legal precedent. If one or more are issued I think there is a good chance they will eventually be challenged and the Supreme Court may have to weigh in on them. I’m sure Trump thinks he has the current Court in his back pocket but when he is a “has been” I wouldn’t be so certain of that. The attitude of the nation post-Watergate was to get it behind us and the thinking was that Nixon being forced to resign in disgrace was sufficient to prevent a future president from similar transgressions. It hasn’t worked out that way and today there is a sizeable portion of the population that isn’t as forgiving.
Last there is the self-pardon. Many feel that Trump will not want to leave without the personal benefit of a presidential pardon. He can simply issue a get out of jail free type pardon to himself. There is a serious question of that act’s constitutionality. There is neither occurrence nor legal precedent in this matter. Even Nixon wasn’t willing to take that chance. It is suggested that Trump resign at some eleventh hour leaving Mike Pence as the temporary president and that Pence pardon Trump at that point. It could happen and would be the safer –although still not certain route – but I don’t think Trump trusts Pence that much. Trump may well have dirt on Pence but it almost undoubtedly would simultaneously implicate Trump. If Trump self-pardons a court challenge is almost inevitable and it would end up in the Supreme Court; a Supreme Court free of Trump at that point.
The title of today’s article took the form of a question. My answer is: both. I feel we are looking at both a plethora of pardons and a scandal(s).
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