Donald Trump is trying to make the final weeks of his presidency count by distributing as many golden parachutes as he can before President-elect Joe Biden takes office. The Apprentice star has already pardoned former national security adviser Michael Flynn after he twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, and now the Justice Department is reportedly investigating an alleged “bribery for pardon” scheme at the White House.
According to a heavily-redacted, 20-page court filing unsealed on Tuesday, an unnamed individual offered “a substantial political contribution in exchange for a presidential pardon or reprieve of sentence.” Trump — nor any other individual — is named specifically in the un-redacted parts of the document, but it does say that two people acted as lobbyists in an attempt to secure a pardon in the “bribery-for-pardon schemes.”
But this all conveniently comes as reports emerge that Trump is considering some other sweeping pardons before he leaves office next month — including for his three eldest children, son-in-law and noted slenderman Jared Kushner, and lawyer Rudy Giuliani. According to the New York Times, Trump has discussed preemptive pardons for each of them with his advisers as recently as last week. Giuliani denied the news on Twitter on Tuesday night, though his credibility is currently of question.
Trump floated the idea of handing out pardons to his "loved" ones after expressing concern that Biden’s Justice Department appointees might seek retribution by targeting Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, Ivanka Trump, and Kushner, reports The Guardian. But first, let's dive into why this gaggle of Manhattanites would even require presidential pardons. Trump Jr. was named in Robert Mueller’s investigation for contacts he had with Russians offering damaging information about Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign. Meanwhile, Kushner reportedly provided false information to federal authorities about his contacts when obtaining his security clearance, but was given clearance anyway by the president. And as his lawyer, Giuliani could be guilty of a whole party platter of crimes. It’s not clear what possible crimes Eric or Ivanka Trump could be connected to; however, an investigation by the Manhattan district attorney into the Trump Organization is looking at tax write-offs on millions of dollars in consulting fees by the company, some of which were paid to Ivanka.
Given the discourse around pardoning his three eldest children (sorry to Tiffany Trump for not committing enough crimes to make the cut), news of the pardon bribery investigation is causing quite a stir. “It may be someone that we’ve never heard of that wants a pardon and is well-heeled and therefore in a position to make a sizable contribution,” Democrat Adam Schiff, chair of the House of Representatives’ intelligence committee, told MSNBC. “So it doesn’t have to be any of the parties that we think that may want a pardon: the [Paul] Manaforts, the Giulianis, and others. It could be someone completely different, but at the end of the day, someone in that chain has to be close enough to the White House where they could conceivably deliver on the official act of pardon if the bribe were paid.”
Trump has already denied the allegations in the document entirely, tweeting Tuesday night, “Pardon investigation is Fake News!”
The pardons for his children, however, could very well continue in spite of this. According to Reuters, it is legal for Trump to pardon his children and associates in his inner circle, but the pardon power is not absolute. He does not have to give a reason for issuing one, nor is it reviewable by other branches of government. It may wipe out a criminal conviction, but that only applies to federal crimes. No pardon can protect them should a criminal investigation occur at a state or local level. Also, many constitutional law scholars dispute Trump’s claims that he could pardon himself (phew).
And remember, according to the Department of Justice, presidential pardons do not at all signify that the recipient is innocent. Or that their father truly loves them, technically speaking.