Republican senators urge Trump to dodge pardon controversies

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Republican senators say President Trump should proceed cautiously in granting pardons during his final weeks in office.

They want him to follow federal procedures, which give the Office of the Pardon Attorney a role in vetting pardon requests. While GOP senators recognize that Trump has broad pardon authority, they’re hoping to avoid a political uproar over last-minute pardons of figures within his inner circle — such as members of his family, his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, former advisers or wealthy donors.

Trump has discussed potential pardons for his three oldest children, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and Ivanka Trump, as well as his son-in-law Jared Kushner and Giuliani, according to The New York Times.

There’s also speculation Trump will pardon himself as a shield from future federal allegations. Such a move, however, would not inoculate him from state and local investigations.

The Manhattan district attorney is investigating the Trump Organization for taking tax write-offs on consultants’ fees. The office of District Attorney Cyrus Vance has also indicated it is looking into possible bank and insurance fraud.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) on Wednesday suggested it would be wise for the president to follow the recommendations of the Department of Justice’s Office of the Pardon Attorney.

“In general, I think presidents ought to take the advice of the pardon office that is within the Department of Justice,” she said. “But the president’s pardon authority is very broad.”

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) said he saw the story about Trump’s consideration of pardons for his family members and Giuliani but didn’t know “whether there’s anything to it.”

“I think pardons should be used very judiciously,” he said.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who is expected to take over as chairman of the Judiciary Committee next year, agreed with Collins that “the process ought to be followed.”

“The Constitution gives him sole power. Even if I disagreed with [a pardon], like I disagreed with Clinton on Rich,” Grassley noted, he had little recourse to push back.

Grassley referred to the scandal that ensued after former President Clinton pardoned fugitive financier Marc Rich on his way out of office in 2001.

Clinton pardoned Rich, who was indicted over allegedly evading $48 million in taxes and charged with 51 counts of tax fraud, during his final week in office. He also pardoned his half-brother Roger  Clinton and former business partner Susan McDougal.

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), a former governor, said the power to pardon “should always be exercised after serious thought.”

“I hope and would think the president feels the same way,” he said.

Trump made headlines last week when he pardoned his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak before Trump took office.

He was the only White House official convicted as part of the Department of Justice’s investigation into allegations of collusion between Trump’s advisers and the Russian government.

Rounds, however, said he isn’t too troubled by Flynn’s pardon.

“Based upon what’s coming out right now, it sounds like there were a lot of things involving his conviction and the way that he was treated that would never have happened if the law had been followed,” he said. “Those are the types of things where a presidential pardon is warranted, which is to try to fix something that was done wrong in the first place.”

Rounds declined to comment on the possibility that Trump might pardon his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was sentenced to more than seven years in prison as a result of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Manafort was released to home confinement because of health concerns in May.

He also declined to comment on a possible pardon of former Trump campaign strategist Stephen Bannon, who was arrested in August and charged with defrauding donors in a private campaign to raise money for a U.S.-Mexico border wall.

“Pardons are something that are very powerful. The president has that authority, but you do it after serious thought and consideration, and I would hope the president would approach it that way,” he said.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), a critic of the president, cautioned against Trump pardoning his family members to protect them from potential prosecutions under the Biden administration because it would create a negative association when they haven’t been charged with any crimes.

“That’s clearly a president’s choice. The challenge with giving members of one’s own family a pardon is that it suggests that there may have been criminal activity, which no family would want associated with it,” he said.

Romney said advice that Trump work with the Office of the Pardon Attorney “seems like a fair recommendation.”

Donald Trump Jr. was investigated by Mueller over his contacts with Russian officials during the 2016 presidential campaign, including a 2016 meeting in Trump Tower in which a Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, promised to dish “dirt” on Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Kushner has been scrutinized in the media over the information he provided to obtain a security clearance.

Trump tweeted in June 2018 that “as has been stated by numerous legal scholars, I have the absolute right to PARDON myself” but also added “why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong?”

Some GOP senators are questioning why Trump would need to pardon family members since none of them are facing any charges.

“I don’t know of what crimes they’re facing. I don’t see any criminal liability for anybody in his family,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Wednesday.

Tags Chuck Grassley Donald Trump Eric Trump Hillary Clinton Ivanka Trump Jared Kushner Lindsey Graham Mike Rounds Mitt Romney Pat Toomey Paul Manafort Robert Mueller Rudy Giuliani Susan Collins
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