Throughout his single term in the White House, President Donald Trump has relished personalizing the power of the office by pardoning the bad deeds of unruly and unlawful friends, associates, and political allies. And there are a lot of bad deeds going down in Trumpworld: The 2016 campaign was full of now-convicted felons, Trump’s business operation has long been of questionable provenance, and his presidency is no different. Now that Trump is set to leave office in January, it seems only natural that Trump would attempt to turn the presidential power of the pardon on himself and those closest to him to try to tie up any legal loose ends—or, minimally, create legal roadblocks to prosecution. On Tuesday, the New York Times reported, Trump has discussed with advisers doing just that by offering preemptive pardons to his three eldest children Don Jr., Eric Trump, and Ivanka, along with son-in-law Jared Kushner and Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
Trump sees the levers of American power as tools for retribution (and patronage) and seems to believe that the Biden administration will target his family because that’s what the Trump administration would do. Trump couches potential legal action as “seeking retribution,” but it could also more honestly be read as: seeking justice. It’s not totally clear the full extent of the Trump family’s criminality while in the White House and beyond, but the Mueller investigation may rear its head again, this time in more damaging ways to the Trump clan.
Don Jr. was a key player in obtaining Russian information on Hillary Clinton. Kushner also played a role as a conduit between Trump and deeply questionable foreign entities. The business dealings of the Trump Organization raise lots of questions and the entire family seems to have pretty consistently lied to federal investigators and Congress when given the opportunity to do so. And then there are Trump’s taxes, which are also chock full of legally questionable moves. That’s to say, there’s a lot out there—and likely much more that’s not public—that the Trumps might want to get a pass for before heading back out into the real world.
There are reports that Trump is concerned that attempting to pardoning himself and his family for crimes they have not yet been accused of also looks an awful lot like a preemptive admission of guilt. Complicating matters is that the pardons have more functional legal heft if they are specific, outlining potential deeds for which the pardon covers. But even a generalized act of clemency is not unheard of. “Such a broad pardon pre-empting any charge or conviction is highly unusual but does have precedent,” the Times notes. “In the most famous example, President Gerald R. Ford pardoned Richard M. Nixon for all of his actions as president. President George Washington pardoned plotters of the Whiskey Rebellion, shielding them from treason prosecutions. And President Jimmy Carter pardoned thousands of American men who illegally avoided the draft for the Vietnam War.”