Presidents typically issue a flurry of pardons and commutations on their way out of office and, if reports are accurate, Donald Trump will be no exception. According to one source, President Trump is eager to exercise his clemency power before Christmas, and a new batch of pardons may be announced today.
So far, the President has used the pardon power sparingly. In some cases, his choices enjoyed popular support, including his decisions to pardon historical figures convicted on the basis of racist motives as well as non-violent drug offenders.
Other choices have been more controversial. These include Trump’s decision to pardon the corrupt former governor of Illinois and Michael Flynn, his former national security advisor who had pled guilty to lying to investigators about his conversations with Russia’s ambassador.
Now, in the waning days of Trump’s presidency, a list of even more controversial names is reportedly under consideration for a pardon. Here are seven of the most prominent ones.
The former NSA contractor copied and leaked highly classified information about the U.S. government’s surveillance programs. Since 2013, Snowden has lived in exile in Moscow. Hailed as a courageous whistleblower by many, others regard Snowden as a traitor who compromised U.S. security. His name has repeatedly surfaced in possible pardon discussions—with some noting President Obama commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning, a soldier who leaked sensitive documents—but it’s unclear if Trump is seriously disposed to pardon Snowden.
Ross Ulbricht aka ‘The Dread Pirate Roberts’
Ulbricht is notorious for running the Silk Road, an online marketplace for selling drugs and offering all manner of illicit services. The young Texan operated the site under the name Dread Pirate Roberts and, when he got caught, tried to claim he had passed the business along to a different Dread Pirate—much as his namesake protagonist had done in the Princess Bride movie. The judge didn’t believe his far-fetched story and sentenced him to life in prison. Civil libertarians have long claimed the sentence was too harsh, while Ulbricht’s mother has been waging a relentless campaign to free her son—leading a report this week that President Trump is considering a pardon.
The former New York mayor has reinvented himself in recent years as a fanatic Trump loyalist. As the President’s personal lawyer, Giuliani has been leading the futile legal campaign to challenge the election results, in part by floating outlandish conspiracy theories. It’s unclear what if any charges Giuliani may be facing, though he has been under federal investigation for his dealings in Ukraine. The New York Times reported this month that he has been discussing a pardon for himself with the President.
The founder of Wikileaks, Assange is currently in prison in the United Kingdom, where he is fighting extradition to the U.S. His critics view him as unsavory figure as a result of rape allegations in Sweden, and his apparent ties to the Russian government. But Assange also has high-profile advocates, including actress and model Pamela Anderson who recently posted bathing suit shots urging Trump to pardon him. Despite the publicity, it’s unclear if Trump is seriously considering clemency for Assange.
Joe Exotic, aka “The Tiger King”
Exotic became a household name after Netflix aired a documentary this year that depicted his exotic cat business, and his feud with an animal rights activist. That feud resulted in Exotic receiving a 22-year sentence for plotting to murder the activist. Exotic’s showbiz lifestyle have led many to speculate that Trump would view him as a kindred spirit and grant a pardon. The Justice Department, however, recently rejected Exotic’s formal application for clemency. Trump could nonetheless disregard the formal protocol and grant a pardon all the same—as he has already done repeatedly.
The Trump children and Jared Kushner
The New York Times reported that Trump is seriously exploring pardons for his three eldest children, Eric, Ivanka and Don Jr. While the latter was implicated in the Russian probe, none of the three Trump kids are currently facing charges—though they may in the future. There is potential legal danger for Ivanka in regard to consultancy fees she received as part of her father’s tax write-offs. Likewise, her husband, Jared Kushner, could face jeopardy over a shell company he allegedly designed to use campaign donations to enrich the family. The President could absolve any wrongdoing, however, by issuing a pre-emptive pardon—something that is in his power to do. Such a pardon, though, would only apply to federal charges. The President could not absolve his family from criminal charges brought by state governments or protect them from prosecution for future criminal activity.
President Donald Trump
Trump has reportedly been asking aides about pardoning himself. Such a move would be an untested assertion of the pardon power given to the President by the Constitution. Many legal scholars are skeptical. There is a clear legal way for Trump to be absolved of any crimes he may have committed—namely by resigning and having Vice President Pence take up the Presidency, and issuing a pardon. That was what happened when President Gexrald Ford absolved his predecessor, Richard Nixon. But there is no indication Trump is willing to follow such a playbook, meaning the untested self-pardon looms as real possibility.