For what? Bad legal advice? According to the New York Times, Rudy Giuliani has more than one legal campaign on his mind these days. While the former mayor conducts a mainly public-relations offensive to overturn election results in several states, Giuliani reportedly wants more than just legal fees in exchange. He also wants a “pre-emptive pardon” for whatever sins that might be alleged down the road.
What sins might those be? Maggie Haberman and Michael Schmidt aren’t sure, but the Ukraine business might be one of the bigger concerns:
Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Trump’s lawyer who has led the most extensive efforts to damage his client’s political rivals and undermine the election results, discussed with the president as recently as last week the possibility of receiving a pre-emptive pardon before Mr. Trump leaves office, according to two people told of the discussion.
It was not clear who raised the topic. The men have also talked previously about a pardon for Mr. Giuliani, according to the people. Mr. Trump has not indicated what he will do, one of the people said.
Mr. Giuliani’s potential criminal exposure is unclear. He was under investigation as recently as last summer by federal prosecutors in Manhattan for his business dealings in Ukraine and his role in ousting the American ambassador there, a plot that was at the heart of the impeachment of Mr. Trump.
It might not just be Ukraine that could draw interest in a Biden-era Department of Justice toward Giuliani. Two years ago, Lanny Davis wanted Giuliani prosecuted for witness tampering regarding his client Michael Cohen. That one’s pretty thin, but there are some unanswered questions about Giuliani’s conduct with Lev Parnas, for instance, and with Dmitry Firtash. The DoJ had already been looking into Giuliani’s actions regarding former US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, at least indirectly.
At the time and ever since, however, Giuliani insists he’s done nothing wrong. Either he may not be so sure about that, or he’s worried that Democrats will want to settle Ukraine-gate scores over Giuliani’s obsession with Hunter Biden’s activities in that country. And he might be right; just because revenge would be a very bad political strategy doesn’t mean that Joe Biden and/or his nominees won’t pursue it. It does seem odd, however, that Giuliani would pursue a pardon — which carries at least the theoretical stigma of admission — rather than just clear his own name in court if the occasion arises.
Giuliani denies he ever discussed a pardon with Trump, calling it “#fakenews” in a tweet:
#FakeNews NYT lies again. Never had the discussion they falsely attribute to an anonymous source. Hard to keep up with all their lies.
— Rudy W. Giuliani (@RudyGiuliani) December 1, 2020
Giuliani’s not at the apex of his credibility at the moment, but even taking him at his word, Giuliani might have some reason to have that discussion. It’s not a given that Biden will adopt a plenary let’s-move-on attitude once he takes office. Even if Biden takes that attitude generally, he might still be sorely tempted to go after the man who spent the last three years trashing his only remaining son.
Who else might be on Trump’s short list for executive clemency? Aaron Blake lists Paul Manafort, Stephen Bannon, Eliot Broidy, George Papadapoulos, Rick Gates, and the Trump family among the potential candidates. I’d give each of the people on the list some shot at the brass ring except Manafort, at least not for a pardon. Perhaps Trump would commute Manafort’s sentence, but Manafort’s crimes have nothing to do with Trump, and nothing to do with the “swamp” or “deep state” or any of the other Trump betes noires. Manafort’s corruption preceded his contact with Trump, and it’s likely that Trump doesn’t feel he owes Manafort anything.
Papadopoulos is a given, of course. He got convicted of a process crime in Robert Mueller’s overzealous special-counsel probe of Russiagate. Trump won’t resist taking a final shot at that. Rick Gates might get one too, although his involvement in Manafort’s prosecution might give Trump a little pause. Broidy’s crime of being a secret lobbyist for foreign interests is a little on the swampy side, so to speak, but Broidy also was an early Trump supporter.
Bannon is a more intriguing candidate, and not a slam-dunk:
Bannon’s relationship with Trump has been an uneasy one, with Trump ousting him in 2017 and calling him “Sloppy Steve.” Bannon has sought to remain in Trump’s good graces since then. But after Bannon’s indictment, The president and the White House distanced themselves from his border-wall effort, with Trump personally saying it was “done for showboating reasons” and was “inappropriate.” (At the same time, Trump had reportedly previously backed the effort and his son Donald Trump Jr. praised it.)
Pardoning someone for an effort Trump himself labeled “inappropriate” wouldn’t make much sense — though his complaint seemed less about the wrongdoing than the effort as a whole. And Trump doesn’t seem to have nearly as much affection for Bannon as others on this list. But Bannon has also remained an outspoken backer of Trump, and his immediate legal jeopardy is greater than others on this list.
Eh, I’m not convinced. Bannon’s alleged crime — supposedly scamming people through the “We Built the Wall” campaign — embarrassed the administration when the indictment dropped. Trump holds grudges, too, so even if Bannon is innocent of the charges, Trump might just be inclined to let him twist in the wind. Call this one a coin flip.
Finally, we come to the real wild cards on Blake’s list: Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. No need to refresh memories on either, as readers are well informed enough on both men to know the details. Trump has nursed a grudge against the intel community since taking office, largely over Russiagate but also over leaks on other issues (and maybe especially on Ukraine). Pardons for either Snowden or Assange, or both, represent Trump’s best shot at giving the intel community the finger on his way out of office. Bet the farm on at least one of them, if not both, getting the Free Pass before January 20.