Retired Harvard law professor and constitutional expert Laurence Tribe tweeted this today: “Trump’s pardon strategy of buying the silence of others to protect himself after his presidency could backfire because pardons erase risks of self-incrimination and thus make it easier to compel testimony that could . . . wait for it . . . incriminate Trump himself.”
It’s a reminder that pardons aren’t magic wands. When you start pardoning your co-conspirators to try to keep them quiet, you run into various legal and practical problems. Sure, pardoning Michael Flynn keeps him from cutting a cooperating plea deal against Trump. But if the pardon holds up and Flynn ends up facing no further legal jeopardy, it then legally requires Flynn to testify against Trump. Maybe Trump is counting on Flynn lying to protect him at that point, but can Trump rely on everyone he pardons to go on to lie for him?
This is before getting to the question of whether pardons of co-conspirators will hold up in court. And of course state charges are still in play, because the president can’t even try to pardon those. Pardons are not a particularly effective tool for Trump when it comes to keeping his co-conspirators quiet. It’s just the only tool he has available.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report