Even as Donald Trump’s criminal scandals grow uglier, and the criminal jeopardy increases for him and his alleged co-conspirators, some folks are as sure as ever that it’s all going to come down to one word. The pessimists in the anti-Trump camp and the optimists in the pro-Trump camp are equally certain that Trump is going to magically pardon his way out of all of this. But back in the real world, Trump hasn’t even bothered to try this tactic, and some of his own closest allies have already placed their bets against it.
Back when it became clear that Donald Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort was about to be arrested, we heard the line about how Trump would simply pardon him. When it became clear that Trump’s National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was about to cut a plea deal, we heard the “pardon” refrain again. When Rick Gates was about to cut a plea deal, we heard it yet again. Yet Trump never even bothers to try. There’s a reason for this.
No president has ever tried to pardon his own co-conspirators in an alleged crime, so there is no legal precedent in place, but most legal experts believe such pardons would be thrown out by the Supreme Court. So Trump would be trying a tactic that would likely get struck down. In addition, if he pardons these folks, it’ll mean they’re no longer facing criminal jeopardy on federal charges, which would mean they couldn’t plead the Fifth, and would have to testify against him. So these pardons, which probably wouldn’t stick anyway, would have the opposite intended effect if they did stick. This is before getting to state level charges, which the president definitely cannot pardon.
There is always the possibility that, once people like Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr start getting arrested, Donald Trump might become panicked enough to try pardoning them, forcing the courts to get involved. But there’s a reason Trump hasn’t even bothered to try pardoning any of his alleged co-conspirators up to this point: it’s not some magic wand. It’s a bad strategy, unlikely to work, and highly likely to backfire. It’s why Flynn and Gates opted to cut plea deals that include significant prison time, instead of holding out for a pardon: they understood the legal reality that pardons were overwhelmingly unlikely to save them.
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Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report