President Donald Trump’s pardon of former Vice President Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff Scooter Libby is supposed to be a subliminal message to his underlings like legal fixer Michael Cohen. By having the unmitigated gall to say Libby got screwed when he was convicted of obstruction of justice, lying to the FBI and lying to the grand jury after the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame, Trump is hoping his subordinates will feel empowered to be uncooperative with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, because he can pardon them if they get in legal trouble.
Those Trump allies would be wise to ignore him for a couple of reasons. First, nobody knows whether Trump will still be president when the time for pardons might arrive. If he is out of office, would a Republican like Mike Pence really want that baggage? The Republican Party is going to need to detox from the Trump experience, and this would undermine that effort. Certainly, a Democratic president would pass on bailing out anyone tied to Trump.
Second, and most importantly, Trump is likely to reserve the pardon option for his family (e.g. Ivanka, Donald Jr. and Jared Kushner) and himself, since there is no guarantee that maneuver would survive a challenge in the U.S. Supreme Court. After all, if these types of pardons are validated, it’ll mean the president is essentially above the law, with the only mechanism for reining him or her in being impeachment. Therefore, Trump is likely going to hold the pardon in reserve.
Now the stories of Trump being completely and irrevocably unhinged are cause for concern. He is acting like a cornered animal, which suggests the impulsive Trump is likely to lash out. It is how a guilty man, especially one with immense power, would act as the walls close in. Just don’t bank on any pardons extending outside of his familial circle. Everyone else is looking at prison.
J.H. Norton is a communications professional, life-long Democrat, and married father of two boys living in Washington, D.C.