In the past week, Trump has been particularly consumed with the question of whether to issue preemptive pardons to his adult children, top aides and himself, said the people familiar with the discussions.
Aides say they no longer expect a preemptive self-pardon or pardons for any family members, but the situation could always change with a volatile and mercurial president.
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 Capitol by Trump’s supporters. Some aides say Trump could face criminal liability for inciting the crowd.
Others say a self-pardon, never before attempted by a president, would be of dubious constitutionality, 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 him in potential civil litigation related to the Capitol attack.
White House spokesman Judd Deere declined to comment, saying his office does not discuss pardons.
The people familiar with the discussions said many of the pardons and commutations Trump is expected to issue in his final days will be uncontroversial.
Aides say it is unlikely he will grant clemency to Stephen K. Bannon, his former campaign adviser, who was charged last year with defrauding donors to a private fundraising effort for construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, or to his personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani, whose consulting business has come under scrutiny as part of an investigation that led to charges against two of his associates.
One person under consideration for a pardon is Lil Wayne, administration officials said. The rapper and music executive, whose real name is Dwayne Carter Jr., pleaded guilty in December to carrying a loaded handgun from California to Florida on his private jet. He was barred from owning the gun because of past felony convictions, including a weapons charge. He has not yet been sentenced. Lil Wayne, 38, met with Trump and posed for photos five days before the November election. He drew fire from other musicians and activists for posting the photo to social media and crediting Trump with helping the Black community.
The news of Trump’s intention to make a slew of final pardons and commutations in the coming days was first reported by CNN.
The president has been besieged by lobbyists and lawyers for well-heeled clients who are seeking to have their criminal convictions pardoned, as well as by advocates for criminal justice reform who argue that their clients were wrongly convicted or were given unfair sentences and deserve to be freed from prison.
Trump has told advisers for weeks that he wants to be liberal with pardons before leaving office. Aides have said the ability to grant clemency is one perk of the job Trump has particularly relished because the Constitution hands the power to the president alone.
But the president’s review of pardon candidates was delayed by the intensifying dysfunction inside the White House since the election and by Trump’s focus on trying to challenge and undermine the results, according to the people familiar with the discussions.
Some candidates were told last week by the White House Counsel’s Office that no pardons could be granted that were not finalized by Friday. Then word of the president’s last-minute weekend review and preliminary decisions to grant numerous pardons and commutations began to trickle out.
So far, Trump has granted clemency to 94 people — mostly friends and political allies — including 49 in the week before Christmas.
They have included people convicted in the special counsel investigation that dominated his first two years in office, such as his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and longtime confidant Roger Stone. Just before Thanksgiving, Trump pardoned Michael Flynn, who had briefly served as his first national security adviser and later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI during its investigation of Russian interference in Trump’s 2016 election win.
About 14,000 people have filed petitions for pardons and commutations. For years, criminal justice advocates have criticized Republican and Democratic administrations alike for backlogs that have left thousands of rehabilitated people seeking mercy to instead languish in prison.
Trump has moved especially slowly in acting on pending petitions. Rather than consulting with the Justice Department’s pardon attorney for recommendations, he has routinely gone around the formal process and sought advice about pardons from a circle of friends, lobbyists and lawmakers.
Many of those to whom he has shown presidential mercy have not even filed applications with the Justice Department, and their cases violate rules the department normally imposes as preconditions for clemency, which include that people generally acknowledge their crimes and show remorse.
Even when Trump has granted clemency to people who are not themselves politically connected, they have often come to his attention via a handful of his favored voices in the field of criminal justice reform.
For instance, a number of ordinary people granted clemency have been recommended to the president by Alice Johnson, whose own prison sentence after a drug conviction was commuted by Trump in 2018 following lobbying by the celebrity Kim Kardashian. Johnson later received a full pardon after speaking at the 2020 Republican National Convention.
Tom Hamburger contributed to this report.