This evening we all learned that the DOJ is criminally investigating a Trump White House bribery-for-pardon scheme that’s been going on since at least August. If you’re wondering why the judge in the case chose today to suddenly unseal the news of this case, it may be because she’s trying to put a damper on what Trump is about to try to do.
The New York Times broke the news this evening that Donald Trump is discussing whether to issue preemptive pardons to Donald Trump Jr, Eric Trump, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, and Rudy Giuliani. A few things stand out here. First, all of these people (except Giuliani) are related to Trump. In other words, even if Trump does end up being hesitant about pardons due to the DOJ investigation, it appears he still wants to pardon his family and the guy who knows where all the proverbial bodies are buried.
Second, pardons are legally considered admissions of guilt. So if Trump’s family members accept these pardons, they’re confessing their guilt. They might argue that they have no choice but to accept the pardon because they’re being framed and they expect to be wrongly convicted. But the law would still see these pardons as felony confessions if they’re granted and accepted, which would open them up to civil litigation for the crimes they just confessed to. Pardons don’t apply to civil liability.
Third, there is the constitutional question of whether the president can pardon his own alleged co-conspirators, an issue which has never been defined by the courts because no president really ever tried it before. So it’s possible that such pardons could be thrown out, though the odds of that would be anyone’s guess. These pardons could also be thrown out for being preemptive; Ford’s pardon of Nixon was preemptive, but it was never challenged in court.
Finally, even if Donald Trump does pardon his kids and Rudy, this would only apply to federal charges. It would have no impact at all on whatever criminal charges that New York State is planning to bring against any of them. So these pardons wouldn’t keep anyone involved out of prison. Bottom line, if Trump’s family members are proven guilty of crimes, they’ll end up in prison one way or the other.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report