It’s only the latest example of Trump using his sweeping pardon power to benefit a top ally. While other presidents have pardoned or commuted the sentences of allies, Trump has taken it to another level. He’s used the power to help numerous close allies, financial donors and extreme figures in the conservative movement. Chief among them have been Flynn and Roger Stone, whose sentence Trump commuted (that’s not a full pardon) earlier this year.
With Trump’s time as president running short, it seems likely he’ll wield this power to aid his allies again. The only real question is how much and for whom he might go out on a limb. Fox News host Sean Hannity on Monday even suggested — twice — that Trump should preemptively pardon himself and his family, which would be both extreme and legally questionable. And the New York Times reported Tuesday that Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani spoke with the president last week about a preemptive pardon for himself.
Below are some prospective pardons Trump could hand down in the final 50 days of his presidency.
Rudolph W. Giuliani
Arguably nobody has gone further for Trump than Giuliani. For the past two years, Giuliani has effectively torched his credibility and sullied his post-9/11 reputation as “America’s mayor” by pursuing a number of conspiracy theories as Trump’s personal lawyer. Most notably, he worked with shadowy figures in Ukraine — including one the Trump administration now calls an “active Russian agent” — in a failed attempt to dig up dirt on the Bidens. More recently, he has headed up Trump’s baseless efforts to claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
Giuliani has not been accused of any crimes, but in late 2019, it was reported that he was under federal investigation by the office he once led: the U.S. attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York.
Two Giuliani business associates involved in the Ukraine effort, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, have been indicted on unrelated charges (they pleaded not guilty this week). Attorney General William P. Barr also pushed out the head of the Southern District, then-U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, in a suspicious manner, though suggestions that the move was tied to investigations have focused more on a Turkish bank than on Giuliani.
Among the most logical candidates for a pardon is Trump’s former campaign chairman. Manafort is serving a more than seven-year sentence for charges related to his foreign work before joining Trump’s campaign. (He was granted home confinement in May because of the pandemic.)
Trump has routinely credited Manafort for not cooperating with investigations of him. Manafort did reach a cooperation agreement at one point, but he quickly voided it by lying to investigators repeatedly — and in a way that seemed geared toward protecting Trump and/or stifling the Russia investigation. Specifically, he repeatedly lied about one matter that a top Mueller prosecutor said was at “the heart” of the case.
Trump has repeatedly left open the possibility of a Manafort pardon, has claimed that Manafort did things that many other Washington consultants do and has spoken about how he has allegedly been treated unfairly — a theme of Trump’s past pardons. Given all of that and that Manafort has already served some of his sentence, he’s a prime candidate.
Stephen K. Bannon
Bannon, who was once Trump’s chief White House strategist and a key figure late in the 2016 campaign, was arrested and charged in August with defrauding donors to a privately funded effort to build a border wall.
Bannon’s relationship with Trump has been an uneasy one, with the president ousting him in 2017 and calling him “Sloppy Steve.” Bannon has sought to remain in Trump’s good graces since then. But after his indictment, the president and the White House distanced themselves from his border wall effort, with Trump saying it was “done for showboating reasons” and was “inappropriate.” (Trump reportedly previously backed the effort, and his son Donald Trump Jr. praised it.)
Pardoning someone for an effort that Trump himself labeled “inappropriate” wouldn’t make much sense — though his complaint seemed less about the wrongdoing than the project as a whole. And Trump doesn’t seem to have nearly as much affection for Bannon as others on this list. But Bannon also has remained an outspoken backer of the president, and his immediate legal jeopardy is greater than that of others on this list.
Any of these pardons would be controversial, but none as much as if the president sought to preemptively pardon himself or his family members for charges that could arise after leaving the White House. During the Russia probe, Trump claimed the “absolute right” to pardon himself, and last week he retweeted a call from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) for Trump to pardon everyone including “himself.”
But legal experts disagree on whether it’s constitutional for a president to pardon himself or even his family. Some argue that it would be inherently corrupt — allowing presidents to commit any crime they wanted knowing they could just pardon themselves later. It has never been tested in court, given that the only presidential pardon, Richard M. Nixon’s, was awarded by his successor, Gerald Ford.
There’s also the problem that a president can pardon only for federal crimes. We don’t yet know whether the Justice Department might charge Trump with anything after he leaves office — department guidelines prohibit charging a sitting president — but authorities in both New York state and New York City are probing Trump’s taxes and the Trump Organization. A federal pardon wouldn’t insulate Trump or his family in those cases.
The former Trump campaign fundraiser and Republican National Committee deputy finance chair pleaded guilty in October to working as an unregistered foreign agent. He accepted millions to secretly lobby on behalf of Malaysian and Chinese interests.
The case doesn’t seem to involve Trump, beyond the fact that it was his administration being lobbied. But Broidy has been a major Trump backer, and Trump’s exhortation that Manafort’s foreign work wasn’t unusual could just as easily be applied to an argument in favor of pardoning Broidy.
One of the more fringe figures on this list might be one of the more likely pardons. Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser on Trump’s 2016 campaign, pleaded guilty to lying to investigators early in the Russia probe and was sentenced to 14 days in prison. Papadopoulos has already served his time, but a pardon would erase the felony from his record.
Prosecutors said Papadopoulos never provided substantial assistance in the investigation, and he has spent the two years since his sentence devotedly backing the president, even writing a book playing into Trump’s allegations of a grand conspiracy.
Papadopoulos said in 2019 that his lawyers had formally sought a pardon.
Another key figure in the Russia probe and a Manafort ally, Gates cut a deal with prosecutors early on, pleading guilty to lying to investigators and financial crimes. His cooperation was much more substantial than that of Manafort or Papadopoulos, with a judge sentencing him to just 45 days in prison — though he was facing as many as six years — because the judge deemed he had provided vital information to Mueller’s probe.
That’s likely a strike against Gates in Trump’s eyes. But he also recently wrote a book about the Trump campaign and the Mueller investigation that, as with Papadopoulos’s, Trump will probably like. And Gates is publicly asking for a pardon.
“The president knows how much those of us who worked for him have suffered, and I hope he takes that into consideration if and when he grants any pardons,” Gates told the New York Times last week.
This prospective pardon would be up there with Trump pardoning himself on the controversy scale. Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, was behind the dump of Democratic emails that some believe swung the 2016 race in Trump’s favor. Assange claims that his work is journalistic in nature, but the U.S. government essentially regards him as having engaged in an illegal foreign effort to affect the 2016 election.
Assange has not been charged with that, but he has been charged on 18 counts of releasing U.S. military documents a decade ago. He’s in prison in Britain while he awaits a ruling on his potential extradition to the United States.
Trump had at one point decried Assange, but in 2016 he began approvingly citing the leaks. Assange’s partner recently appealed to Trump for a pardon. Assange’s lawyers have also alleged in a British court that then-Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) offered him a pardon or some other favor if Assange produced evidence that Russia didn’t interfere in the 2016 election. While Trump has questioned Russia’s involvement, though, there is no evidence that this alleged offer emanated from the White House.
Another conduit for leaked U.S. government documents, Snowden has also seen his name surface in the pardon discussion. Trump at one point called Snowden a “spy” and “traitor,” but he said in August that he was considering a pardon.
“Many people think that he should somehow be treated differently, and other people think he did very bad things,” Trump said. “I’m going to take a very good look at it.”
That’s noncommittal, and Trump acknowledged at the time that “I’m not that aware of the Snowden situation,” which would suggest this isn’t much of a priority for him. It would also seem difficult for him to pardon crimes that he once labeled treasonous.
One name that doesn’t often come up in the pardon discussion but is worth considering is Kushner, the father of Trump son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner. Charles Kushner was convicted in 2004 on 18 counts of tax evasion, witness tampering and illegal campaign donations, for which he served 14 months in prison.
Complicating things here: Jared Kushner was tasked with leading a White House team on recommending pardons, which would create a pretty bad appearance problem if his father were to get one. In addition, Charles Kushner said in 2018 that he didn’t want a pardon because of the publicity it would attract. That might be less of a concern if it’s done by a lame-duck president, though.