Pardon our Russian, but Trump is focked. As he explores the possibilities of pardoning himself, family members and their associates, he’s learning that pardons have anti-Trump consequences.
What is a pardon? A pardon is a government decision to proceed as if an individual convicted of a crime were actually innocent.
Sometimes innocence is the reason for pardon. For example:
- A person could be pardoned of a crime if DNA evidence later suggests that they weren’t the perpetrator.
- The POTUS traditionally “pardons” a perfectly innocent turkey each Thanksgiving, sending him or her to a pleasant retirement at a Disney resort or perhaps Mount Vernon to avoid slaughter.
In other cases it seems that a person did commit the crime, but that he or she has already paid their debt to society and should no longer serve prison time, suffer discrimination in the employment market, or bear other consequences of having a criminal conviction.
But sometimes guilt with unpaid debt accompanies a pardon. The government agent in such cases has personal motivations. Enter Donald J. Trump?
Negative Consequences of Pardons
What is the downside of presidential pardoning? The main downside is that a pardoned person cannot plead the Fifth Amendment. (The amendment has other clauses, but pleading the 5th means that you won’t be compelled to testify against yourelf.) After all, the 5th gives us the right against self-incrimination, and a pardoned person no longer faces federal legal consequences if they implicate themselves under oath. If they might have “dirt” on another, they can be subpoenaed to share.
Imagine if Trump pardoned his son Donald. Or his son-in-law Jared Kushner. (Or Paul Manafort. Michael Flynn, Carter Page, Steve Bannon or Ivanka?) Anyone in his circle, if pardoned, would then have a greater chance of being called up to testify against him and possibly other associates.
Another risk of Trump pardons is that pardons themselves can be a basis for impeachment. Fordham law professor Jed Shugarman explains that If a president abuses his or her power, that abuse of power could be the basis of impeachment.
- Can Trump pardon himself? That’s up for debate, and no POTUS before Trump has made the attempt.
- What if a pardoned person refuses to testify? Such a person should start preparing for jail time. He or she would be in contempt of court. We would informally advise finding extra bonding time with any loved ones and watching Orange Is the New Black on Netflix.
- Does a presidential pardon cover state-level crimes? No. Even after a presidential pardon, a state prosecutor can charge the person for state crimes. The person could then plead the 5th and not be in contempt of court.
- President Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon. Why? Ford told the nation that he pardoned Nixon because someone needed to “write the end” of a tragedy that would otherwise drag on and hurt the nation. He stated that Watergate was a “tragedy in which we have all played a part” — which is ridiculous, as the general population didn’t orchestrate the Watergate break-in… Cynics believe that Ford pardoned Nixon simply because it would result in the Ford Administration.
- If Trump pardons someone, it will probably be for treason. Why did the last Republican president pardon people? Courtesy of Wikipedia here’s a look at George W. Bush pardons in 2002:
6. Can a child be compelled to testify against his or her parent? Yes. As for relatives, only a spouse cannot be legally forced to testify. This is called spousal privilege.
Trump Watchdog Tip: Sometimes it’s worth waiving a variety of “spousal privileges” in exchange for a clear conscience & international heroism.