Accepting a Pardon is an Admission of Guilt
Donald Trump would be acting similarly to past Presidents if he issued several pardons just before the end of his term. It’s a power granted to the President under the Constitution, and he wouldn’t be the first to make some questionable choices. A breaking news story has revealed a federal judge approved a Justice Department investigation into a bribery scheme under which pardons might be granted for large political donations. Keep in mind that only one person has the ability to grant pardons for federal offenses; the President of the United States.
While the pardon for pay scheme potentially is a huge story. Little information is available, and that will play out over time. I want to address the number of pardons to come for Trump associates and family members who have not (yet) been charged with federal crimes. Sean Hannity of Fox News has already suggested to the President he pardons his family in advance of what a Biden Justice Department might do. There are suggestions from Trump himself and others that he could pardon himself. Trump recently retweeted a post implying the same:
“President Trump should pardon Flynn, the Thanksgiving turkey, and everyone from himself, to his admin, to Joe Exotic if he has to. The Left has a bloodlust that will only be quenched if they come for those who fought with @realDonaldTrump to deliver for the American people.” — Matt Gaetz.
Trump will likely issue pardons to some of his loyal supporters and family members who have not been charged but have been implicated in potential federal crimes. What is not likely, is that any of those recipients will admit they’ve done anything wrong. The Supreme Court disagrees.
In the landmark case, Burdick v. United States, Burdick, a reporter for the New York Tribune, refused to name his sources of information for a story. President Wilson offered him a pardon to absolve him of any guilt associated with his testimony, but Burdick refused to accept the pardon. The prosecution tried to force the pardon on Burdick, but the court ruled he could not be forced to accept it, and without acceptance, the pardon was not in effect. Justice Joseph Story wrote in the opinion:
“This brings us to the differences between legislative immunity and a pardon. They are substantial. The latter carries an imputation of guilt; acceptance a confession of it.”
If Don Jr., Ivanka, Jared, Eric, and The Donald wish to accept pardons (it’s yet to be determined whether the President can really pardon himself though I understand why he would try). They are welcome to do so, but I don’t want to hear anything about them not being guilty of any crimes. I’m told most lawyers might want any pardon to specify what crimes they are being pardoned to ensure there is no later challenge to that aspect of the pardon. A blanket pardon for unspecified crimes might tempt a Biden Justice Department to challenge the pardon in court, particularly if Trump pardons himself.
My personal desire is that the pardon's power is revised to limit excesses, but the likelihood of a Constitutional amendment seems pretty bleak. How about requiring the pardoned party to slink away and never be heard from again. If that applied to Donald and his kids, it would almost be worth it as long as New York State continues to investigate their cases, which a federal pardon won’t impact. It would be nice if felons in the White House actually went to jail, like the mother who tried to send her child to a better school. I hope that isn’t just wishful thinking.