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Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Advisers to President Trump tell Axios three forces drove last night's twin bombshells — a slew of pardons for his allies and a last-hour attack on the $900 billion stimulus bill as a "disgrace."

1. Because he can: As Jonathan Swan has explained, Trump loves pardons for the same reason he relishes executive orders — pure power and instant gratification. A longtime Trump official says that pardons are uniquely satisfying to Trump because he can overturn the work of another branch of government, the judiciary.

2. He wants attention: As the nation moves on from the election and President-elect Biden names a Cabinet and addresses the nation, Trump — mostly out of sight for the past seven weeks — "sees Biden being relevant every day," one presidential adviser said. That helps explain the video Trump tweeted 14 minutes after announcing the pardons, calling on Congress to increase "ridiculously low" stimulus checks from $600 for an individual to $2,000.

3. It splits the party: Trump wants the Republican Party to remain beholden to him, and is desperate to retain his GOP power past Jan. 20. Top Republicans are increasingly queasy about the two runoffs in Georgia on Jan. 5 that will determine which party controls the Senate. Last night's White House actions undermine the GOP Senate candidates by fomenting turmoil and distraction, and robbing the senators of a clear win on the stimulus.

Many of the pardons appear to have been granted on whim.

  • The N.Y. Times' Michael Schmidt told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow: "[I]t's clear that many of them don't even meet the basic criteria to receive a typical Justice Department recommendation for a pardon. So that means that they operated essentially outside the system," with people lobbying Trump and his confidants.

The pardons included former Reps. Duncan Hunter of California and Chris Collins of New York, two of the earliest GOP lawmakers to back Trump’s 2016 campaign.

  • The two voluntarily pleaded guilty to well-documented insider-trading and campaign-spending violations.
  • Other pardons went to George Papadopoulos, the former Trump campaign adviser, who pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI about Russian contacts, and four military contractors convicted of killing Iraqi civilians in the 2007 Nisour Square massacre.

On the stimulus, Trump just talked to a camera, with no press present — political theater and posturing.

  • The president made a populist case against a bill his own Treasury secretary helped negotiate — and which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who antagonized Trump by finally recognizing Biden as president-elect, helped send to the Oval Office with a veto-proof majority.

Go deeper: Snapshots for 20 of the pardons and commutations.

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Go deeper

Young people want checks on Big Tech's power

Data: Generation Lab; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

The next generation of college-educated Americans thinks social media companies have too much power and influence on politics and need more government regulation, according to a new survey by Generation Lab for Axios.

Why it matters: The findings follow an election dominated by rampant disinformation about voting fraud on social media; companies' fraught efforts to stifle purveyors of disinformation including former President Trump; and a deadly Jan. 6 insurrection over the election organized largely online.

Ronna McDaniel says RNC would stay "neutral" in primaries if Trump ran in 2024

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel told the AP on Wednesday that if former President Trump runs again in 2024, the GOP will remain "neutral" during the primary season.

Why it matters: McDaniel has been staunchly supportive of the former president, who endorsed her to keep running the RNC. She now must focus on regaining majorities in Congress, especially as the Republican party reckons with what the GOP looks like after Trump, even as he remains hugely popular with his base.

Most Senate Republicans join Rand Paul effort to dismiss Trump's 2nd impeachment trial

Photo: Joshua Roberts-Pool/Getty Images

Forty-five Senate Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, supported an effort to dismiss former President Trump's second impeachment trial.

Why it matters: The vote serves as a precursor to how senators will approach next month's impeachment trial, making it highly unlikely the Senate will vote to convict. The House impeached Trump for a second time for "incitement of insurrection" following events from Jan 6. when a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol.