Forty-five years ago today, on October 17, 1974, President Gerald Ford had some explaining to do to the House Judiciary Committee as to why he controversially gave Richard Nixon a full pardon “for all offenses against the United States.” It is hard to imagine the next President doing that if he or she is a Democrat. In fact, Joe Biden just made clear in an interview with Radio Iowa on Sunday that, if elected President, he would not pardon Trump.
But what if Trump gets impeached and removed, or chooses to resign, and then Mike Pence becomes President and pardons him? Also, of more immediate concern, what if Trump starts issuing pardons to the likes of Rudy Giuliani and others who think they will merit a pardon for choosing cretin over country? When this topic comes up, the media quickly points out, and accurately so, that the President of the United States can only pardon individuals for federal but not state crimes. But that fact alone does not guarantee that Trump or any of his henchmen would not have to stand trial for crimes that a state such as New York would likely bring in the future. This is because the defendants could argue that being tried on the state level for the same crimes amounts to double jeopardy and so the complaints against them should be dismissed.
However, thanks to recent legislative action by New York lawmakers, defendants can still argue that—but they will lose bigly. In May, the New York State Assembly passed a bill, 90-52, that closes a dangerous loophole in the double jeopardy law. The legislation carves out an exception for pardoned individuals who served in a President’s administration, worked directly or indirectly to advance a campaign or transition, or worked at a non-profit or business controlled by the President and whose alleged criminal activity took place in New York State. The exception also covers individuals whom a President has pardoned for his or her own benefit.
Yesterday, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law, taking effect immediately. The state’s Attorney General Letitia James put it perfectly following the bill’s passage in May, tweeting: “Double jeopardy exists to prevent someone from being charged twice for the same crime, not to allow them to evade justice altogether.” Cuomo echoed her words yesterday, adding: “No one is above the law and New York will not turn a blind eye to criminality, no matter who seeks to protect them.”
This development arrives not a day too soon, just as some Trump sycophants have vital decisions to make. If they have been leaning toward rolling the dice and protecting their treasonous boss, they may want to think again. No matter what happens, there will be a special place in hell for Donald Trump. But New York has cleared a path so that Trump’s goons and even Trump himself may still be assured their own special place in the state’s penitentiaries.