Trump pardon scandal would doom his 2024 campaign

Trump pardon scandal would doom his 2024 campaign
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Rumors are swirling across official Washington and throughout national media that President TrumpDonald TrumpNYT: Rep. Perry played role in alleged Trump plan to oust acting AG Arizona GOP censures top state Republicans McCain, Flake and Ducey Biden and UK prime minister discuss NATO, multilateralism during call MORE is considering granting a highly controversial list of pre-emptive pardons, and possibly announcing another presidential candidacy in 2024 — as early as the day President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenDC residents jumped at opportunity to pay for meals for National Guardsmen Joe Biden might bring 'unity' – to the Middle East Biden shouldn't let defeating cancer take a backseat to COVID MORE is inaugurated. 

The rumored recipients include his sons Eric and Donald Jr., his daughter Ivanka, his son-in-law Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerJilani: China 'sending clear message' to Biden officials with sanctions that opposition could lead to 'future pay cut' Would Trump have gotten away with a self-pardon? History will never know Trump grants clemency to more than 100 people, including Bannon MORE, his lawyer Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiLawyers group calls for Giuliani's suspension from law practice, ethics probe Would Trump have gotten away with a self-pardon? History will never know Trump grants clemency to more than 100 people, including Bannon MORE, and potentially a self-pardon.

If Trump grants mass pardons including members of his family, it would be viewed by a majority of voters as a national scandal. It would create a majority public perception that Trump fears — rightly or wrongly — that his family members have committed crimes for which they need to be pardoned. And it would be damaging to every family member granted a pardon, who would be far better off being perceived as first family than suffering from stories about them being treated more like a crime family.


If I were advising any member of the Trump family, my advice would be for them to make it clear they do not want or need pardons. Anyone who knows President-elect Biden knows it is highly unlikely he would seek a vendetta against the Trump family, and would let the course of justice take its natural course without presidential interference, pressure or politics. 

Whatever the merits of these pardons, and whatever the political reaction to them, the president has the unquestioned authority under the Constitution to grant all of these pardons, except perhaps a pardon of himself.

Regarding the latter, many legal scholars, who I believe are 100 percent correct, argue that the president cannot pardon himself. If he tries, and this pardon is ultimately contested in court, the Supreme Court would almost certainly rule against it.

A self-pardon is inherently absurd under the Constitution. It would literally place the president above every law of the land, and would enable a president to violate every federal law without limit, from bribery to murder, and simply pardon himself after. 

Recently I wrote a column predicting an alternative scenario, which would be fully legal, and which I continue to believe is likely, in which Trump would resign from office early and be pardoned by his successor, Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceSchumer calls for DOJ watchdog to probe alleged Trump effort to oust acting AG Calls grow for 9/11-style panel to probe Capitol attack Capitol rioter claims he was 'duped' by Trump, lawyer says MORE.


Regarding the talk that Trump will run for president again in 2024, my view is that he definitely will announce his intention to run again in 2024 — but in the end he will not run again. 

The problem for Trump politically is that virtually everything he is doing now will make him unelectable in 2024.  

Trump’s challenges to the 2020 election results only make him look like a loser, a sore loser, and a bad loser. His legal challenges have been rejected in court by judges of all political persuasions. His repeated attacks against GOP governors and election officials alienate members of his party who support the Republicans he attacks. Not only that, his attacks are a political disaster with huge numbers of political independents, and help Biden’s favorable numbers rise significantly by comparison with Trump.

If Trump announces he is running for president on the day that Biden is inaugurated as president, this would be an epic political disaster.  

If Trump continues his current behavior until the crucial Georgia Senate runoff elections, he could well elect the two Democratic Senate candidates and turn control of the Senate to Democrats.

If Trump wants to pursue major post-presidency business, which he has great capacity to do, the worst thing he could do for himself and his family is make himself a pariah. 

Trump can grant multiple pardons to family members. He can run for president in 2024. But he cannot successfully do both. A pardon scandal would doom his candidacy, rip the Republican Party apart, permanently alienate democratic nations everywhere from whatever business he does, and give Democrats a major boost in the Georgia Senate runoffs and the midterm elections in 2022.

Brent Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and former Rep. Bill Alexander (D-Ark.), who was chief deputy majority whip of the House of Representatives. He holds an LLM in international financial law from the London School of Economics.