With much speculation on who could be on President Trump’s pardon list, here’s a closer look on what may be allowed under the law.
Following last week’s breach of the US Capitol, Professor Ann Lousin, from John Marshall Law School, points out the District of Colombia is tricky, traversing federal and district lines.
Who does the charging matters when it comes to a presidential pardon?
If the US attorney for the District of Colombia brings down the hammer on rioters from that day, a presidential pardon could be fair game.
“He can only pardon people who have committed or may have committed federal crimes,” Lousin said, “He cannot pardon anybody for a state crime. And of course, the District of Columbia is in a very ambiguous position here. It’s partly a district and is partly a federal area.”
Back in 1974, Vice President Ford pardoned then President Nixon following the Watergate scandal. Nixon resigned and, historically, Lousin says, with that accepted pardon, comes a presumption of guilt.
It all dates back to a little known court case from 1915: Burdick vs the United States.
Citing that case, Ford was banking on a presumption of guilt. Nixon didn’t buy in. He publicly maintained his innocence until he died in 1994.
“It may, however, do what Ford intended, which was to heal the country,” Lousin said. “And I think Ford knew a lot of people would hold it against him. His ratings immediately plummeted, and then he didn’t get elected on his own in 1976, but an argument could be made that it was necessary to heal the country to end what he called the national nightmare.”
While a resignation is not likely from President Trump in 2021, professor Lousin does not believe the president can pardon himself. And things get trickier legally when you consider state prosecutors may be considering to file charges of their own against Trump; like inciting a riot or interfering with elections is Georgia.
All of these, Lousin maintains, would be well beyond federal presidential pardon power.
But when it comes to federal charges against family members, like the Trump children, you might remember when Bill Clinton pardoned Roger Clinton in 2001. The outgoing president’s half brother was granted a controversial presidential pardon for a 1985 cocaine possession and drug-trafficking conviction.
As for pardoning groups like Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol Building last week, it’s been done before: in 1795, George Washington pardoned men involved in the whiskey rebellion. The uprising erupted over a federal whiskey tax.
It was the first presidential pardon on record offering mercy to men who committed treason. in 1868 Andrew Johnson pardoned a slew of former confederate officers. President Johnson was impeached that same year.