Over at The Hill, Bill Press launches into a predictive flight of fancy as to how President Donald J. Trump’s last day in office will play out on Jan. 20, 2021.As his final act before stepping out of the Oval Office for the last time, President Trump will issue “a full prospective, presidential pardon to the person who has been the most unfairly investigated and persecuted by our corrupt system of justice: Donald J. Trump.” This presumably will follow a flurry of other pardons for many of the President’s friends and loyalists who might be facing investigations of their own under the new Democratic administration and Chuck Schumer’s tenure as Senate Majority Leader. In Bill Press’ world, Trump is going to probably come down with writer’s cramp before the morning is out.
How much of this is playful fantasy fodder? Press claims that while he’s not a betting man, he would bet the ranch on this one. And he goes on to explain how Trump is not only plotting this course of action already but has legal precedent to get away with it and the courts couldn’t lay a finger on him to prevent it.
A president pardoning himself? Don’t laugh. While that issue’s never been addressed by the Supreme Court, Trump’s not the first one to think about it. He’s already said Article II “allows me to do whatever I want.” Richard Nixon’s White House lawyers seriously considered the possibility, but Nixon decided to resign before being indicted with a crime. In 1998, however, during the Clinton impeachment hearings, House Judiciary Committee member Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) stated: “The prevailing opinion is that the president can pardon himself.”
But wait, White House officials could even be pardoned for crimes they haven’t even been charged with yet? Again, don’t laugh. It’s already happened. One month after he resigned, Gerald Ford gave Nixon a “full, free and absolute pardon” for all federal crimes he “committed or may have committed” during his presidency – thereby making it impossible to charge him with anything. And, in 1992, shortly before leaving office, President George W. Bush pulled the rug out from under special counsel Lawrence E. Walsh by granting a full pardon to six Reagan officials, including Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, under investigation in the Iran-Contra Affair. Walsh had no choice but to drop his case.