Donald Trump is expected to issue more than 100 presidential pardons on Tuesday, during his final hours in the White House, but may not pardon himself or his immediate family, it was reported on Monday.
White House officials say Trump has privately debated with aides whether he should take the extraordinary step of pardoning himself. Some administration insiders have reportedly warned against it, arguing that it would make Trump look guilty.
On Sunday, Trump met his son-in-law Jared Kushner, daughter Ivanka Trump and senior advisers to thrash out a lengthy list of pardon requests, the Washington Post reported. The meeting took up much of the day. The president was personally engaged with the details of every case, it said.
Some scholars believe a self-pardon would go against the US constitution, since it violates the basic principle that nobody should be able to judge their own case. But the issue has never been tested.
The White House discussions took place against the backdrop of a looming Senate impeachment trial, after the storming on 6 January by a pro-Trump mob of the US Capitol building. If convicted, Trump could be disqualified from running again for the presidency in 2024.
Out of office, Trump will also be vulnerable to prosecution from federal and state authorities over his actions in office and regarding his business empire.
It is not clear whether Trump will act to pardon members of his inner circle including Steve Bannon, who has been charged with defrauding individuals who donated to a wall project on the US-Mexico border. Another possible name is Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, who led attempts to overturn the result of November’s election. Trump and Giuliani are said to have fallen out over unpaid legal bills.
CNN reported on Monday that the final batch of clemency actions was expected to feature criminal justice reform-minded pardons as well as more controversial ones for allies and friends. Lobbyists have been pushing for months to include their clients on Trump’s valedictory list.
“Everything is a transaction. He likes pardons because it is unilateral. And he likes doing favours for people he thinks will owe him,” one source familiar with the matter told CNN, adding that Trump wanted to help people who could in turn help him in his post-White House career.
Dr Salomon Melgen, a prominent eye doctor from Palm Beach who is in prison after being convicted on dozens of counts of healthcare fraud, is expected to be on the clemency list, CNN said.
Presidential pardons do not imply innocence – a fact President Gerald Ford clung to in the face of lasting opprobrium for his pardon of Richard Nixon, his predecessor who resigned in disgrace in 1974, over the Watergate scandal.
Last-ditch pardons and acts of clemency are common as presidencies come to a close. Infamously, in 2001, Bill Clinton pardoned the fugitive financier Marc Rich on his last day in the White House.
In an analysis of Trump’s pardons, the blog Lawfare concluded: “The clemency system is dominated by insider access to the president and almost exclusively serves the president’s personal and political goals and whims.”
On Sunday the New York Times reported on intensive lobbying for pardons as the Trump era draws to a close. Among startling details, an unnamed associate of Giuliani reportedly told an ex-CIA officer a pardon was “going to cost $2m”.
Participants in the Capitol riot have appealed directly – via television or their lawyers – for pardons from Trump. On Sunday Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a key Trump ally, appealed to the president directly, telling him not to pardon anyone associated with the attack.
“There are a lot of people urging the president to pardon the folks who participated in defiling the Capitol, the rioters,” he told Fox Business.
“I don’t care if you went there and spread flowers on the floor. You breached the security of the Capitol. You interrupted a joint session of Congress. You tried to intimidate us all. You should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and to seek a pardon of these people would be wrong. I think it would destroy President Trump, and I hope we don’t go down that road.”
Trump has already given pardons to 94 people, most to prominent figures caught up in the investigation by special prosecutor Robert Mueller into conspiracy with Russia. They include Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, longtime crony Roger Stone and ex-national security adviser Michael Flynn, who admitted lying to the FBI.
US news organisations said the clemencies were expected to be issued on Trump’s last full day in office on Tuesday. Skipping the inauguration of the president-elect, Joe Biden, Trump leaves on Wednesday morning to begin his post-presidency at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida. His presidency ends at noon on Wednesday.