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Can Trump preemptively forgive himself or his allies? The power of mercy, explained

Yes. The Constitution does not prohibit pardons that give the impression of personal interest or a conflict of interest, even though they may cause political backlash and public shame.

Shortly before stepping down in 1993, President George Bush pardoned six Reagan administration officials for “their conduct relating to the Iran-contra affair,” including former Defense Secretary Caspar W. lied to Congress. Independent prosecutor Lawrence E. Walsh had planned in the trial to examine whether Mr. Bush had played a more important role than he had recognized when he was vice president, and Mr. Walsh accused Mr. . Bush from a “blanket.” to the top. “

In 2000, shortly before leaving office, President Bill Clinton granted a series of controversial pardons, including to his half-brother, Roger Clinton, for a cocaine conviction in 1985 for which he had served about a year of prison, and Susan H. McDougal, a former Clinton business partner who had been jailed as part of the Whitewater Inquiry.

This is not clear. Usually, pardons are worded in a way that specifically describes the crimes or sets of activities to which they apply. There is hardly any precedent as to the extent to which a pardon can be used to instead exclude criminal liability for anything and everything.

Notably, Nixon’s “complete, gratuitous and absolute forgiveness from Ford” was extraordinarily broad. It covered all federal crimes that Nixon “committed or might have committed” during his presidency, rather than listing particular issues or categories of activity. But since prosecutors did not attempt to indict Nixon, the validity of this rare and unlimited leniency has not been tested.

In a legal journal article this year, Aaron Rappaport, a law professor at the University of California, Hastings, argued that pardons should be specific about what they cover. He cited the principles of English common law that informed the founders’ understanding of pardons, as well as fundamental democratic values. However, he also acknowledged that “the existence of a requirement of specificity has never been recognized by the Supreme Court”.

This is not clear. There is no definitive answer as no president has ever tried to forgive himself and has faced prosecution anyway. As a result, there has never been a case that gave the Supreme Court a chance to resolve the issue. In the absence of any precedent for control, legal thinkers are divided on the issue.