Last-minute presidential pardons are a long-held tradition for outgoing US presidents, and Trump is no exception.
On his final full day in office on Tuesday, US President Donald Trump – who himself faces legal jeopardy – is expected to announce the pardoning of more than 100 people, local media reported, capping a tumultuous four-year term in office.
So far, it remains unclear who is on that list.
But Trump, who faces a Senate trial about his alleged role in inciting a violent mob of supporters to storm the US Capitol on January 6, has reportedly even considered pre-emptively pardoning himself and his children.
Last-minute presidential pardons have long been customary for outgoing US presidents. Although the authority was put in place to give presidents humanitarian authority to overturn wrongful convictions, to commute excessively harsh sentences to rehabilitated individuals, or a gesture of mercy – many presidents have used that power as favours for supporters and allies. And Trump appears on track to carry on that tradition.
What is a presidential pardon?
The US Constitution awards the president the authority to issue “reprieves and pardons for offences against the United States”.
But a president can only pardon federal crimes, and not state crimes. And he cannot issue pardons for impeachment cases in Congress.
Legal experts noted that a pardon does not overturn a conviction, it rather exempts the person of punishment – such as jail time or monetary fines – under that conviction.
Although most pardons are issued to people who have already been sentenced in court, they can also be pre-emptive, covering conduct that has not yet been prosecuted or led to a guilty verdict, but they cannot apply to crimes committed in the future.
Perhaps the most famous example of a pre-emptive pardon in US history is that of President Gerald Ford who pardoned his predecessor Richard Nixon after he resigned in 1974 for all crimes he might have committed while in office.
Whom might Trump pardon?
According to various news reports, Trump could pardon his former campaign adviser Steve Bannon, co-founder of the far-right Breitbart News. He was charged last year with lying to donors about how their contributions to a campaign to build a wall along the US-Mexico border, would be used.
He could also pardon his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Federal prosecutors have been investigating his business dealings in Ukraine, and two of his associates have already been charged.
Whom has Trump pardoned so far?
He notably pardoned former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, former adviser Roger Stone, as well as former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn who were convicted as part of a special counsel probe into Russian interference in the 2016 US election.
He also pardoned Charles Kushner, the father of his son-in-law, Jared. The real estate developer was sentenced to two years in prison in 2005 for illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion, and witness tampering.
Can he pardon his children?
Yes, Trump can and may pardon his adult children, Don Jr, Eric and Ivanka, all three of whom have taken on prominent roles working in the White House and for his campaign. So far, none has been officially charged with any crimes.
Can Trump pardon himself?
There is no precedent for this as no US president has done it, so it will remain up to the courts to decide if Trump has the legal authority to pardon himself under the Constitution.
Trump’s could have legal troubles stemming from his alleged role in inciting his supporters to storm the US Capitol on January 6 during a fiery one-hour speech.
A January 2 phone call to Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger could also land him in legal jeopardy. During a leaked audio recording he was heard asking Raffensperger to “find” the votes he needed to win the state from Joe Biden – a move that could be interpreted as trying to intervene in an election, which is a violation of federal law.
There is also speculation that Trump could be ensnared in investigations of former associates or even new investigations being opened after he leaves office. However, there are multiple state and local investigations into Trump and his businesses that would not be covered by a presidential pardon.