What Taylor is saying in any other context, though, would be major news. In some ways, it’s a reflection of how desensitized we’ve become to such allegations — often from people like him who served the president himself — in the Trump era.
Let’s recap what Taylor has said, what evidence there is to back it up and what it means.
The preemptive pardon offer
In a video for a group called Republican Voters Against Trump released Tuesday, Taylor said he personally witnessed Trump in April 2019 offering officials pardons if they were criminally charged for their actions in stemming illegal immigration at the border.
“The president said to the senior leadership of the Department of Homeland Security, behind the scenes, ‘We should not let anyone else into the United States,’ ” Taylor says in the video. “And even though he’d been told on repeated occasions that the way he wanted to do it was illegal, his response was to say, ‘Do it. If you get in trouble, I’ll pardon you.’ ”
Taylor summed it up: “The president offered to pardon U.S. government officials for breaking the law to implement his immigration policy.” Taylor said he decided at that point to quit.
The allegation is not entirely new. The Washington Post’s Nick Miroff and Joshua Dawsey reported in August 2019 that Trump had floated pardons to officials for potentially illegal acts to stem the flow of undocumented immigrants at a particularly troubled time on the border. “Don’t worry, I’ll pardon you,” Trump said. The New York Times previously reported that Trump offered then-acting DHS secretary Kevin McAleenan a pardon under similar circumstances, which CNN also reported.
But each of these times, anonymous White House officials sought to argue that it was merely a joke — a common defense of Trump’s more outlandish comments, even when it strains credulity.
Trump himself denied the reports.
Taylor is the first person to go on the record confirming Trump’s comments, and he clearly doesn’t regard them as having been a joke. If Trump did float the pardons seriously, legal experts have said, it could open him up to allegations of obstruction of justice. A president’s pardon power is broad, but some of them say using it preemptively in service of a crime could raise other legal issues.
And those legal issues aside, if a president were to offer pardons for potentially illegal activity, it would seem to undermine Trump’s “law and order” message.
Trump used DHS for explicitly political purposes
In a Washington Post op-ed last week, Taylor said that Trump routinely tried to use the department in which Taylor served for his “political benefit” — and often explicitly so:
He insisted on a near-total focus on issues that he said were central to his reelection — in particular building a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico. Though he was often talked out of bad ideas at the last moment, the president would make obviously partisan requests of DHS, including when he told us to close the California-Mexico border during a March 28, 2019, Oval Office meeting — it would be better for him politically, he said, than closing long stretches of the Texas or Arizona border — or to “dump” illegal immigrants in Democratic-leaning sanctuary cities and states to overload their authorities, as he insisted on several times.
It’s one thing for a president to pursue policies that might be divisive but which he approves of; it’s another for him to explicitly cast these decisions as being aimed at helping him win reelection. Politicians certainly do things for those purposes, but to make it so blatant that it’s your goal — rather than, say, good governance — is something that is generally assumed you don’t do.
Taylor’s allegation, though, tracks with other tell-alls that suggest Trump is constantly preoccupied with his electoral fate, often making decisions with that as a primary focus. Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton said recently that Trump didn’t “see anything where [reelection] wasn’t the major factor,” and that while people attack Trump for a lack of focus, “when it comes to reelection, his attention span was infinite.”
Importantly, Bolton said this came at the expense of longer-term diplomatic goals, which he said “fell by the wayside” because of Trump’s desire for photo ops and momentary positive headlines. That sounds a lot like what Taylor is saying: that Trump just wants political “wins.”
Trump’s ‘magical authorities’ to punish blue states
In another video for Republican Voters Against Trump, Taylor claimed Trump suggested withholding disaster aid when California was suffering from wildfires because the state didn’t support him politically.
“On a phone call with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, he told FEMA to cut off the money and to no longer give individual assistance to California,” Taylor said. “He told us to stop giving money to people whose houses had burned down from a wildfire, because he was so rageful that people in the state of California … didn’t support him and that, politically, it wasn’t a base for him.”
Taylor added: “A lot of the time, the things he wanted to do not only were impossible, but in many cases illegal. He didn’t want us to tell them it was illegal anymore, because he knew that there were — and these were his words — he knew that he had ‘magical authorities.’ ”
Exactly what Trump said and in how many words is not clear. But Trump has repeatedly threatened states in which he views the leaders as insufficiently supportive of him or whose leaders have done something he disagrees with
He has repeatedly and publicly threatened California’s federal aid — including on wildfires, the topic of Taylor’s allegation. Trump has issued this threat by citing certain cities providing sanctuary to undocumented immigrants and California’s failure to meet his expectations at its border with Mexico. He at one point threatened to defund the state entirely.
Trump has also threatened the funding of other states whose leaders ran afoul of him — most notably the critical swing state of Michigan, whose leaders he criticized for sending out too many applications to vote by mail in the 2020 election.
Trump has also recently urged a boycott of Goodyear, despite its being headquartered in another competitive state, Ohio, because of the tire company’s prohibition on some political apparel, including from the Trump campaign.
In other words, the idea that Trump at the very least fumed about aid to a state that didn’t align with him politically is eminently believable, even as the details aren’t in much detail in Taylor’s allegation.