President Donald Trump has made one thing absolutely clear in the last 24 hours: he will not miss his presidency in the legal drama and corruption concerns that have pervaded his presidency for the past few weeks.
Having already been pardoned by his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, Trump discussed the possible widespread preventive pardon of his children Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka; veje Jared Kushner; and his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, according to reports from ABC News and the New York Times. None of these people have been charged with a crime, so these pardons should include comprehensive allegations of impunity.
Meanwhile, a newly released, heavily revised court opinion revealed that federal investigators political contributions (apparently to the Trump campaign or Republican groups, but we don’t know the specifics) in exchange for a presidential pardon from Trump. The identities of the people involved in this case are being changed, but the news makes it clear that even before Trump lost him, matters relating to his power of grace were under investigation.
Attorney General Bill Barr also returned to the front page after a quiet period on Tuesday. Barr told the Associated Press that the Department of Justice “did not see any level of fraud that could have achieved a different outcome in the election”. Perhaps to dampen President Donald Trump’s hopes from this admission, Barr also revealed that he had appointed John Durham, an American lawyer investigating the FBI’s Trump campaign / Russia case, as a special counsel to make it harder for Biden to fire him. (Barr spent more than two hours Tuesday afternoon at the White House.)
All in all, Trump continues to try to bend law enforcement to his will – but his late success is limited. So he is increasingly attracted to the power of grace that he can exercise in his own power to save his close co-workers and family members from possible legal consequences.
Trump discussed the possible preventive grace of his children
Around noon on Tuesday, I wrote that “Trump’s grace shenanigans have gone up” because the recent Flynn grace contained preventive considerations and because he allegedly discussed similar preventive grace to his attorney, Rudy Giuliani.
But the news of the day was not over. New York Times Maggie Haberman and Michael Schmidt later reported that Trump also spoke to counselors about potentially granting preventive grace to his three eldest children – Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump – and his son-in-law. , Jared Kushner.
The business affairs of both the Trump Organization and the Kushner family were under investigation, and as part of Robert Mueller’s special adviser on Russia, Donald Jr. met with a Russian lawyer to try to defile Hillary Clinton.
But none of these led to criminal charges against Trump’s children or Kushner. So all hypothetical grace must be written broadly enough and preventive. (Nor can it cover state crimes, which can be a problem as the Trump organization’s main investigation is being conducted by New York State prosecutors.)
Of course, it would also be an impressive and unprecedented use of executive power if the president granted his children broad immunity from federal criminal proceedings. Some Trump allies, such as Fox News presenter Sean Hannity, argue that the move would be justified because they expect prosecutors under Biden to continue “chasing witches” for people close to Trump.
Yet, if Trump – or his children – have political ambitions in 2024, it could be an incentive to hold back the power of grace as widely as possible.
We learned of a “bribery for grace” test
As Trump paid increasing attention to the extent to which he wanted to use his power of grace, news struck that federal investigators were already investigating what a corrupt effort to obtain such grace from Trump.
The revelation comes from the newly concluded court opinion of Beryl Howell, Chief Justice of the District Court for the District of Columbia, USA. However, the opinion has been heavily reworked and key details are missing, including the identity of the persons involved in the alleged scheme. But there is a fair amount we can collect from the unbuilt bits.
The bottom line is that investigators say there are two separate systems designed to pardon or reduce a person’s sentence.
- One is a “bribe for grace” system in which they would offer “significant political contribution” through mediation (apparently to the Trump campaign or affiliated groups).
- The second is a “secret lobbying system” in which two people lobby for senior White House officials for this grace without officially registering as lobbyists under the Lobbying Information Act.
Investigators uncovered these two alleged systems while reviewing materials seized during an existing investigation. But there was a question: One of the people involved in lobbying the White House was a lawyer. So the investigators wanted to make sure they had a judicial signature that reviewing communications with that person did not violate attorney-client privileges. Judge Howell gave them this signature – because the notices in question were copied to another person who was not a lawyer.
There has been speculation on Twitter about who might have asked for this pardon. There are some clues – he seems to have one short surname and it appears that in the custody of the Office of Prisons. These facts do not correspond to the majority of the “ordinary suspects” of the president’s criminally entangled comrades, so it is conceivable that a person seeking pardon may be a person about whom little news has been received so far.
So far, there are no indications that anyone has been charged as a result of the investigation. However, Judge Howell unfolded the opinion issued in August after giving the government three months to take further investigative steps. They change people’s identities because they haven’t been accused yet.
It is also important to note that President Trump or White House officials do not allege any intentional violation in the unamended portions of the document. (“The pardon investigation is fake news!” Trump tweeted.) But it certainly suggests that unscrupulous people are trying to profit from Trump’s power of grace.
Bill Barr had a busy day
Attorney General Bill Barr has been relatively low-profile in recent weeks, but made news on several fronts on Tuesday.
First, Barr told Michael Balsamo of the Associated Press that the Department of Justice “did not see any level of fraud that could have achieved a different outcome in the election”. The statement received a great deal of attention because it flew in front of Trump’s false allegations that the election was stolen from him due to widespread fraud. But it’s noteworthy because, despite Barr’s well-deserved reputation as Trump’s convincing political ally, he’s unwilling to go so far as to support Trump’s election fraud claims.
Second, and perhaps to cushion this blow for Trump, Barr told the Associated Press – and Congress as well – that John Durham had appointed an American lawyer as special counsel.
Back in early 2019, Barr commissioned Durham, a U.S. lawyer in Connecticut, to examine the U.S. government’s treatment of Trump partners ’relations with Russia. Since then, Durham’s investigation has been mostly behind the scenes. (The only allegation was a guilty accusation by Kevin Clinesmith, an FBI attorney, for falsifying a document used in a surveillance application – a case already uncovered by the Attorney General of the Department of Justice.)
It is unclear whether Durham experienced a serious offense outside of Clinesmith. But Trump and his supporters have long hypocrited the prospect of Durham prosecuting former government officials investigating the president. Barr is said to have put severe pressure on Durham to complete at least part of his work ahead of the 2020 election, but Durham’s deputy, Nora Dannehy, resigned in protest in September and Durham ultimately took no further public action before the election.
The appointment of Barr Durham as Special Adviser – which took place in mid-October but was only announced on Tuesday – was apparently intended to protect Durham from being potentially fired in the Biden administration (since a Special Adviser can only be fired for “good cause”). As to why we only now know about this, Barr suggested that he should not announce before the election that he would not influence the outcome.
But for Trump’s allies, that’s not enough. Axios Jonathan Swan reported that Trump’s allies saw the appointment as a special adviser as “smoke protection to prevent the publication of the so-called Durham report,” and that the president was still thinking about firing Barr.
Barr visited the White House on Tuesday and stayed there for more than two hours; Swan reported that Attorney General Mark Meadows met with the White House chief of staff. It is not known what was being discussed.