The minute Special Counsel Robert Mueller filed a motion to withdraw his cooperation agreement with Paul Manafort, the mainstream media immediately began yelling the word “pardon” ad nauseum. It’s easy to understand why; there’s no better way for MSNBC or CNN to keep you tuned in than to scare you into believing that Donald Trump is about to magically pardon everyone and magically get away with everything. Sure enough, the media frenzy has handed Trump the opportunity to play up the pardon fantasy for his own benefit.
Because the media can’t talk about anything but pardons right now, a reporter asked Donald Trump about whether he plans to pardon Paul Manafort. Trump gave a rather smart answer: “It was never discussed, but I wouldn’t take it off the table. Why would I take it off the table?”
Back in the real world, it would be impossible for Donald Trump to pardon his way out of this. If he tried to pardon an alleged co-conspirator, it would be immediately challenged in court. While Trump thinks he has five Supreme Court votes in his pocket, anyone paying attention knows that Trump probably does not have John Roberts on this matter. So unless Brett Kavanaugh gets to vote twice, Trump’s pardons would probably be struck down.
Even if Trump’s federal pardons for people like Paul Manafort did succeed, those same people would simply be hit with similar state level charges, which can only be pardoned by the Governor, not by the President. So these people would still need to cut plea deals against Trump in order to avoid spending the bulk of their lives in prison. Even if the state level charges fell apart, which they won’t, that would mean these people would be facing no legal jeopardy, meaning they’d be required to testify against Trump.
For the above reasons, pardons are a laugh-out-loud non-starter when it comes to Donald Trump’s Russia scandal. Sure, he can try it, but he’d be gaining nothing, and probably harming himself. Even Trump’s bumbling lawyers have surely explained this to him, which is why he never bothered to pardon anyone who has cut a plea deal against him over the past year. If Trump ever stupidly tried it, Robert Mueller would probably pop champagne, because it would make his job of ousting Trump so much easier.
But as long as the media keeps pretending that pardons are a magic wand that can get Donald Trump out of his troubles, and as long as the public keeps obsessively talking about pardons, it gives Trump leverage he wouldn’t otherwise have. Of course he’s saying that he’s not going to rule out pardoning everyone. We keep saying that we fear he’s going to use a weapon he doesn’t possess, so naturally he’s playing into that by hinting he might use this imaginary weapon against us.
There’s only one way to disarm Donald Trump on this: stop talking about pardons. Stop fretting over pardons. Stop staring at the television in panicked fear whenever they mention pardons. Instead, make a point of changing the channel every time they launch into a fictional segment about Trump and his magic pardons. Teach the media that it needs to stop these antics.
There are many things to worry about right now when it comes to an increasingly unhinged Trump. But him magically pardoning his way out of this isn’t one of them. It’s simply not how pardons work – and based on the fact that he’s never bothered to try pardoning anyone who’s ever cut a plea deal against him, even he knows it.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report