The national media convulsed last week with the leaked revelation to the Washington Post that President Trump was seeking guidance from his legal advisors about whether he could pre-emptively pardon his close associates and family as a way of shutting down the Russia investigation. Even better, he was exploring the possibility of SELF-pardons.
Now, there was a lot of good analysis about whether Trump can or can’t pardon himself but the answer comes down to the fact that there’s no legal precedent for it. It was too brazen of a tack for even Richard Nixon to consider, if that’s any perspective. But the obvious takeaway is that self-pardon is not an easy out for Trump to deflect the Mueller investigation. Self pardoning would create much more of a shitstorm than it would solve.
But, yes, a president DOES in fact have the power to pardon pretty much anyone he wants, except himself. So he could, in theory, pardon Jared and Donald Jr. and Manafort and every other relative and crony he thinks might be caught up in this. But here’s the rub: Once they’ve been pardoned they lose their right to “plead the 5th” meaning to refuse to testify to avoid the risk of self-incrimination. The pardon grants them immunity from any crimes. By accepting a pardon, they’ve waived their right to plead the 5th. Which means Robert Mueller gets to compel every one of them to testify against the president himself.
President Trump is an old New York player. He’s been around enough organized crime cases to know what happens when family and friends start testifying. He’s never going to put himself in that situation, even to save his own son or son-in-law. It would be the selfless thing to do to throw himself on the grenade to save the family. Some patriarchs might do that. But does anyone expect that from Donald Trump?