Joe Biden is now all set to become the 46th President of the United States after he got the necessary votes in the electoral college. But will Donald Trump have the last laugh by pardoning key individuals before he leaves the White House?
Donald Trump, having failed to stop Joe Biden becoming the President-Elect, could be about to unleash a volley of pardons in his final weeks in the Oval Office.
Among those he is rumoured to be considering for a presidential pardon are Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency officer who leaked classified information and is now in Russia, and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
You might argue Edward Snowden’s pardon was controversial, but would it be pardoning my extremely rich donor friend who was convicted on tax evasion, racketeering, and wire fraud controversial? https://t.co/YwOLva3Oi3
— Zaid Jilani (@ZaidJilani) December 14, 2020
During the 2016 presidential election Donald Trump described Snowden as a “total traitor”, said Russian President Vladimir Putin would hand him over and he would deal with him “harshly.”
As with many of Trump’s promises, his rhetoric was not matched by reality and Snowden remains in Russia, where his American wife Lindsay Mills is expecting a baby.
On 4 December Snowden tweeted: “Mr President, if you grant only one act of clemency during your time in office, please: free Julian Assange. You alone can save his life.”
Assange is currently in Belmarsh prison in London, pending a decision on 4 January about whether to extradite him to the US on charges of espionage which could see him given a 175-year sentence.
Trump has handed out 29 pardons while in office – ranging from Joe Arpaio, the controversial sheriff of Maricopa County in Arizona, to Dick Cheney’s former aide Scooter Libby, fraudster Michael Milken and long-dead boxer Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion.
Last month, in a blaze of publicity, Trump pardoned his former National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, who was accused of making “false and fraudulent statements” to the FBI regarding the nature of the contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak during the 2016 election campaign.
In August Trump pardoned Alice Johnson, an African-American criminal justice activist, former bank robber John Ponder and Susan B. Anthony, the founder of the women’s suffrage movement who died in 1906.
So who else might be hopeful of getting a pardon from Trump?
Let’s start with a case which is not controversial.
Russell Bradley Marks, now 57, has spent 28 years in prison after pleading guilty to his involvement in a cocaine ring in 1992. He has spent years appealing, claiming he was just a low-level flunky who was misled by his counsel.
AP Photo / Jacquelyn Martin
Former Donald Trump presidential campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, right, who pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements to the FBI during the agency’s Russia probe, holds hands with his wife Simona Mangiante, as they arrive at federal court for sentencing, Friday, Sept. 7, 2018, in Washington.
Trump’s former adviser Rick Gates was sentenced to 45 days in jail and three years probation in 2019 for helping Paul Manafort to conceal US$75 million.
Another man seeking a pardon is George Papadopoulos, the first person convicted in the s0-called Russiagate scandal.
In April 2019 Papadopoulos told Radio Sputnik: “I was set up to become some sort of patsy in this conspiracy, which I believe was designed for two reasons: one was to initially cover up that I was being spied on for other reasons and two, to then use me and frame me to eventually undermine the Trump presidency and use me as some sort of conspiracy person that connects all the dots that never existed in the first place.”
AP Photo / Seth Wenig
FILE – In this Thursday, June 27, 2019, file photo, Paul Manafort arrives in court, in New York.
Trump fundraiser Elliott Broidy, who pleaded guilty in October to to conspiring to violate lobbying laws on behalf of the Chinese and Malaysian interests, would be a controversial choice because he worked for the President.
Also clamouring for a pardon is Paul Manafort, who was convicted of failing to disclose foreign bank accounts or register as a foreign lobbyist for the government of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich.
A pardon for him would be controversial for the same reason as Broidy.
The pièce de résistance would be a pardon for Stephen Bannon, the former executive chairman of Breitbart and Trump’s chief strategist in the 2016 campaign.
Bannon is currently facing federal charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering over a crowdfunding campaign in support of building a wall along the US-Mexican border.
A pardon for him would be controversial for the same reason as Broidy, Manafort, Gates and Papadopoulos.
Whoever he pardons it will struggle to beat the controversy created by Gerald Ford’s decision to pardon his predecessor Richard Nixon in 1974 amid the Watergate scandal.