President Trump reportedly plans to offer clemency to at least 100 people in his final hours in office, according to administration officials who spoke with multiple news organizations. The White House had initially planned for Trump to issue the pardons and commutations in batches, but that plan was scrapped in the aftermath of the insurrection that the president incited at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. Now, the announcement of mass clemency is expected to happen on Tuesday, the final full day of the Trump presidency. It is not yet clear if the president will include preemptive pardons for aides and members of his family, or if he will attempt to pardon himself — which his advisers have reportedly tried to discourage him from doing.
CNN reported Sunday that the “final batch of clemency actions is expected to include a mix of criminal justice reform-minded pardons and more controversial ones secured or doled out to political allies.” The full list is apparently not yet set, and Trump and the White House are still fielding requests and recommendations as to who should be on it. CNN adds that, not surprisingly, “the expectation among allies is that Trump will issue pardons that he could benefit from post presidency,” with a source explaining, “Everything is a transaction. He likes pardons because it is unilateral. And he likes doing favors for people he thinks will owe him.”
The president has apparently offered pardons like candy to allies and staff since he lost the election, regardless of whether or not those people face even a whiff of legal jeopardy. Trump reportedly considers his clemency power to be his favorite perk of being president, since he alone wields it, and he has already granted clemency 94 times to date. That has included numerous undeserving people — including multiple convicted war criminals. And it seems quite clear that figuring out who else he should award clemency to has been one of his only priorities over his final days in office. Per the Washington Post:
Trump met Sunday with his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, daughter Ivanka Trump and other aides for a significant amount of the day to review a long list of pardon requests and discuss lingering questions about their appeals, according to the multiple people briefed on the meeting. The president was personally engaged with the details of specific cases, one person said.
Regarding the possibility that Trump will try to pardon his close aides, family members, or himself — which would be questionable constitutionally — the Post reports that “Trump has been particularly consumed” with that question:
Although he has mused about the possibility, no final decisions have been reached, and some advisers have warned against using his pardon power to benefit himself. Neither Trump nor his children have been charged with crimes, and they are not known to be under federal investigation. But the question of a presidential self-pardon has become more urgent and controversial since the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by the president’s supporters. Some aides think Trump could face criminal liability for inciting the crowd.
Others think a self-pardon, never before attempted by a president, would be of dubious constitutionality but could anger Senate Republicans preparing to serve as key jurors at Trump’s impeachment trial, and would amount to an admission of guilt that could be used against Trump in potential civil litigation related to the Capitol attack.
It’s also not clear if Trump is considering pardons for any members of the pro-Trump mob who stormed the Capitol and were subsequently arrested. Some have publicly asked for that, but if Trump’s advisers have warned him not to pardon himself in the aftermath of the deadly siege, it seems likely they would also warn him not to pardon anyone who took part in it. Then again, as always, Trump’s willingness to use his power in untoward ways should never be underestimated.
The Post adds that sources familiar with the White House discussions insist many of the clemency recipients will not be controversial. Indeed, it’s possible that many recipients will be deserving, though the president and his advisers have not followed anything like a traditional process for reviewing candidates, which means the vast majority of the 14,000 people who have reportedly filed for clemency are unlikely to have gotten much attention. Many of those who have gained consideration likely paid for the privilege in one way or another.
The New York Times reported Saturday that selling potential access to the unscrupulous president’s clemency pen has become a cottage industry, “with some of his allies collecting fees from wealthy felons or their associates to push the White House for clemency, according to documents and interviews with more than three dozen lobbyists and lawyers” — and the market has only gotten hotter now that the end of Trump’s term is nigh. Among the moneymakers, per the Times:
One lobbyist, Brett Tolman, a former federal prosecutor who has been advising the White House on pardons and commutations, has monetized his clemency work, collecting tens of thousands of dollars, and possibly more, in recent weeks to lobby the White House for clemency for the son of a former Arkansas senator; the founder of the notorious online drug marketplace Silk Road; and a Manhattan socialite who pleaded guilty in a fraud scheme.
Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer John M. Dowd has marketed himself to convicted felons as someone who could secure pardons because of his close relationship with the president, accepting tens of thousands of dollars from a wealthy felon and advising him and other potential clients to leverage Mr. Trump’s grievances about the justice system.
A onetime top adviser to the Trump campaign was paid $50,000 to help seek a pardon for John Kiriakou, a former C.I.A. officer convicted of illegally disclosing classified information, and agreed to a $50,000 bonus if the president granted it, according to a copy of an agreement.
The Times also reports that Kiriakou was at one point told that Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani — who is himself one of the people the president may pardon on Tuesday — could help arrange a pardon in exchange for $2 million. Kiriakou, fearing Giuliani was illegally selling pardons, rejected the offer and reported it to the FBI. (“Giuliani challenged this characterization,” the Times noted.)
On Monday, the Times added to their list, reporting that disgraced former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Lil Wayne were on the docket for potential pardons.
Whoever makes the final list or why, Trump is set to more than double, in a single day, the number of people he has granted clemency to over his entire term. While all presidents traditionally issue a wave of pardons and commutations before they leave office, taking advantage of that power to such an extreme degree, at the last minute, is one of the only norms Trump has left to shatter.