It’s long been believed that when it comes down to it, Donald Trump will try to pardon everyone involved with his Russia scandal – including his advisers, his family members, and even himself – in a last ditch effort at surviving the scandal on his way out the door. We know this partly because Trump himself let leak that he’s inquired about whether he has the power to pardon himself. But now his Attorney General Jeff Sessions may have given away a little too much of Trump’s pardon strategy.
Jeff Sessions publicly testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. He was grilled on a number of topics, including his increasingly suspicious role in Donald Trump’s Russia scandal. He was also asked about Trump’s decision to pardon former Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Many have come to suspect that Trump arbitrarily pardoned Arpaio in order to get his first pardon out of the way, so the public won’t see it as quite so jarring when Trump begins pardoning his own Trump-Russia co-conspirators.
Sessions unwittingly gave away two things. First, he admitted that there was no real process at the Department of Justice when it came to the Arpaio pardon; instead Trump simply rammed it through without any legal input. This suggests that Trump really did issue the pardon for strategic reasons, rather than any desire to seek what he believed was legal justice for Arpaio. Second, Sessions refused to say whether he believed that it would be appropriate for Trump to preemptively pardon people. This is because he didn’t want to bring immediate scrutiny to Trump’s pardon strategy by saying “yes,” and he didn’t want to harm that strategy by saying “no.”
So what have we learned? Donald Trump indeed plans to try to pardon everyone involved in his Russia scandal, including himself, and including Jeff Sessions. That last part was given away by Sessions’ arrogant demeanor, which telegraphed that he thinks he’s getting away with his election treason. Neither Trump nor Sessions appears to understand that the Supreme Court can strike down any attempted pardon that it considers to be unconstitutional. Numerous legal scholars have argued that Trump can’t pardon his co-conspirartors or himself.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report