Administration

Flynn spurs questions of who Trump might pardon next

President Trump's Thanksgiving eve pardon of Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser, is prompting questions about who else might win clemency in the president's final weeks in office.

Speculation over whether Trump would offer pardons for allies and supporters who have been convicted of federal crimes or face serious legal liability has long been a subject in Washington.

And the controversial decision to pardon Flynn, who had pleaded guilty in federal court, quickly stirred talk that there will be more Trump pardons to come.

Trump has frequently criticized investigations of him and his administration as a "witch hunt." He argued that Flynn in particular had been treated unfairly.

It's not uncommon for an outgoing president to issue sweeping pardons, though it can be controversial. Former President Clinton was heavily criticized after he issued 140 pardons on his last day in office, including for his own brother and a well-connected Democratic donor.

Even before the Flynn news on Wednesday, Trump had already shown a willingness to issue pardons or commutations to supporters.

In July, he commuted the prison sentence of Roger Stone, who was preparing to serve more than three years on charges of lying to Congress and witness tampering that stemmed from former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Here are some figures who could be in line for a presidential pardon.

Paul Manafort

Paul Manafort, who spent about two months as chairman of Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, is serving more than seven years in prison on various federal bank and tax fraud charges, which were also brought by Mueller's team in an effort to secure his cooperation with their investigation.

Since his 2018 sentencing, it's been an open question of whether Trump would pardon him.

Minutes after Manafort's second sentencing at the hand of a federal judge in DC, the Manhattan district attorney filed similar state criminal charges against him, an effort widely seen as a way to circumvent any pardon the former Trump campaign chair receives for federal crimes.

In 2018, Trump said in an interview that pardoning Manafort hadn't come up in White House discussions but he would not rule it out.

"It was never discussed, but I wouldn't take it off the table," Trump told The New York Post at the time. "Why would I take it off the table?"

Steve Bannon

Before becoming estranged from the White House, Bannon served as Trump's campaign CEO in 2016 and later as his chief strategist in the early days of the administration.

In August, Bannon and three others were indicted by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York for defrauding donors who had given money to a nonprofit organized to finance a privately-built wall along the southern border.

Prosecutors allege that Bannon took a substantial amount of money raised for the wall for personal gain.

Trump has distanced himself from Bannon over the past two years. When the indictment was announced in August, the president minimized their relationship and downplayed the nonprofit project at the center of the alleged scheme.

"I don't like that project. I thought it was being done for showboating reasons," Trump told reporters at the time. "It was something that I very much felt was inappropriate to be doing."

Still, Bannon has remained an outspoken backer of his former boss, who has rewarded other loyal supporters with pardons or commutations, like Stone and Sheriff Joe Arpaio. 

George Papadopoulos

Papadopoulos was a minor figure on the Trump 2016 campaign, and received a relatively lenient sentence for his role in Russia's effort to meddle in the election, but his outspoken support for Trump and being an early target of the Mueller investigation may tempt the president into issuing a lame-duck pardon.

Papadopoulos was named as one of the campaign's foreign policy advisers in 2016. In 2018, he pleaded guilty and sentenced to 14 days in prison for lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian intermediaries during his time on the campaign, making him the first campaign adviser to be sentenced as a result of the Mueller investigation.

In addition to the 14 days in prison, Papadopoulos was also sentenced to 12 months of supervised release.

Trump has given little indication of whether he's considering a pardon for Papadopoulos, who has already completed his prison sentence, the one-time adviser may be the most outspoken on this list in his efforts to seek a reprieve from the president.

"There's been so much disinformation and misunderstanding about who George Papadopoulos is, how he actually fits into [Mueller's investigation] in the proper context and what he was doing for the Trump campaign and Trump transition team," Papadopoulos told CNN last year, saying is lawyers have submitted a formal application for a pardon.

"If I'm offered one, I would honorably accept it," he said.

A self-pardon

Biden's election has prompted many to wonder whether Trump will take the unprecedented - and potentially unconstitutional - step of pardoning himself.

Legal scholars generally believe that one of the few limitations on the president's pardon power is that he cannot self-pardon, but the question has never been presented in court.

Still, it's an open question considering the significant legal liability that Trump will be opened up to once he loses the immunity that comes with the Oval Office. Federal prosecutors in the Biden administration will have to decide whether to pursue investigations into the outgoing president.

No president has ever been charged with a crime after leaving office by a succeeding administration, but many of Trump's critics have pushed for him to be investigated for both his conduct in office and as a private businessman.

More than a thousand former federal prosecutors signed a letter last year arguing that the president's conduct outlined in the Mueller report would justify obstruction of justice charges in a typical case. The Biden Department of Justice will also have to decide whether to follow up on state and local investigations in New York into Trump's finances.

Even if a court decides that Trump is able to pardon himself, it would not fully insulate him from potential legal liability, as the pardon would not apply to the state and local investigations being carried out in his home state.

Trump has indicated that he does believe he has the power to give himself clemency.

"As has been stated by numerous legal scholars, I have the absolute right to PARDON myself, but why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong?" Trump tweeted in 2018.

 

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