As news broke about the Justice Department investigating a “bribery-for-pardons” scandal last night, I joined pretty much everyone else in America in speculating who might have been involved. At risk of stating the obvious, it has been said one doesn’t need or request a pardon if one isn’t guilty of crimes. When we’re thinking about the wide circle of Trump’s associates, that still leaves us with a lot of options.
Today, as we contemplate the possibility of 45* selling pardons like his not-fancy Trump wine, we should consider what this actually means. As an initial matter, the President is given blanket constitutional authority to pardon individuals for federal crimes, which includes prospective pardons, as we saw President Ford do with President Nixon. This, of course, raises serious questions about the integrity of said pardons when one doesn’t even know the extent to which the criminality has occurred — and in the present administration, it’s safe to say that both known and unknown crimes are running rampant among 45* sycophants, family members and political supporters, both legislative and otherwise.
How might these pardons have been paid for, if indeed such a scheme was operating from within the White House? Perhaps through campaign donations, or perhaps through other financially supportive means of Trump or the Trump Organization. It’s really quite something from a legal perspective, certainly in the wake of Roger Stone and Michael Flynn.
Flynn — who, lest we forget, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI — was the first to receive a pardon by Trump a few days ago. This, of course, raises every legal red flag known to humankind. If this can now be seen as one co-conspirator pardoning another co-conspirator, the pardon would become legally fraudulent and flawed. If upheld by the Courts, it should be litigated under a new, properly law-abiding administration as well as a new, properly law-abiding Department of Justice. Flynn may well not have gotten away scot-free just yet.
We have watched as Bill Barr has turned this DOJ into Trump’s personal defense firm, even attempting to step into personal litigation regarding a rape and defamation case from decades ago brought forward by E Jean Carroll. Trump stated that he didn’t rape Carroll while in office, and Barr therefore argued that it became a part of his remit. Public money was called in to underwrite the President’s defense just a few short weeks ago, because “the defendant” would have become the US government rather than Trump himself. This sort of intervention is, quite frankly, insane. The depth of its insanity makes the existence of a corrupt bribery-pardon scandal easy to believe.
Yet we have now seen Barr openly dispute the wide-ranging election fraud upon which 45* and his supporters hang their baseless claims for a broken election. To that end, the Attorney General may be the latest Trump minion to be thrown under the proverbial bus. After all, this POTUS has no loyalty to anyone or anything but his own personal needs; hence, presumably, his desire to stay in office to avoid the limitless indictments coming his way as well as the countless civil litigation cases he will be forced to defend when he no longer sits in the Oval Office.
As a lawyer, I am appalled to see any other attorney supporting Trump’s pardons as they clearly are being utilized by a desperate lame-duck president who has done nothing but raid the coffers of the American treasury to line his own pockets and those of his family. It shouldn’t need to be said that, aside from all this, his unqualified children never had any business working inside the White House; that they worked so closely with our most important agencies is a nepotistic national embarrassment.
Presidential pardons are not mere playthings for political aspirations and coverups. While constitutionally protected, they must be properly deployed within all legal parameters. Once our new administration is in place, and a proper apolitical and independent commission is established to handle, investigate and prosecute every Trump-related crime, we will see the truth of what has gone on behind closed doors during the weeks since 45* lost the election. We will see it because it is necessary for our country to see it. It will set a bold example for any future grifters looking for a shot at the title Trump now holds.