Dec 7, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Trump plots mass pardons, even to people not asking

Illustration of a playing card featuring Trump and the words "Get Out of Jail Free"

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

President Trump isn't just accepting pardon requests but blindly discussing them "like Christmas gifts" to people who haven't even asked, sources with direct knowledge of the conversations told Axios.

Behind the scenes: Trump recently told one adviser he was going to pardon "every person who ever talked to me," suggesting an even larger pardon blitz to come. As with most Trump conversations, the adviser wasn't sure how seriously to take the president — although Trump gave no indication he was joking.

The big picture: The president relishes his unilateral authority to issue get-out-of-jail-free cards. Lately, though, he's been soliciting recipients, asking friends and advisers who they think he should pardon.

Trump has also interrupted conversations to spontaneously suggest that he add the person he's speaking with to his pardon list, these sources said.

  • The offers haven't always been welcome.
  • One source felt awkward because the president was clearly trying to be helpful but the adviser didn't believe they had committed any crimes.
  • The adviser also believed being on the list could hurt their public persona.
  • The White House declined to comment.

Trump argues the preemptive pardons may be necessary because the Biden administration will target his former aides, the sources say.

The backstory: As Axios first reported, Trump's decision to pardon Michael Flynn set the template for a wave of pardons to friends and loyalists.

  • One senior administration official said the practice has since expanded, with pardons being discussed "like Christmas gifts."

Yes, but: The White House pardon system doesn't entirely consist of the president's free-wheeling offers.

  • White House attorneys are working through a more traditional process, even if it doesn't cover every person Trump has discussed, a source familiar with the process said.
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