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Trump Final Pardons Raises Questions of Pardon Pay to Play Scheme

Democracy Advocates Say Congress and DOJ Must Hold Trump Accountable for Potential Pardon Abuses

Washington, D.C.Today, President Donald J. Trump issued pardons for 73 people, some of which may be self-protective pardons for some of his closest allies. The announcement of these latest pardons come after reports of potential pay-to-play schemes, where people seeking a pardon sought to buy access to the President.

The pardon power is not absolute. Pardons used to either place the president above the law, undermine the constitutional powers of another branch, undermine the Bill of Rights, function as a bribe, or function to obstruct justice are unlawful and an abuse of executive power. As with any abuse of executive power, it is the responsibility of Congress to check them. 

In reaction to news of the pardons, Aditi Juneja, counsel at Protect Democracy, released the following statement: 

“President Trump’s abuse of the pardon power is not only unprecedented in American history but also potentially unlawful. The founders never intended for the pardon power to be used to violate the Constitution or to function as a bribe in a pay to play scheme. Congress must employ its extensive oversight tools to investigate potential pardon power abuses and pass legislation, like the Protecting our Democracy Act (PODA) that limits executive power overreach. To restore faith in our democracy, Congress and the Department of Justice must investigate President Trump’s pardon abuses, or risk setting a dangerous precedent by immunizing future presidents and place them above the law.”

The pardon power was intended as a safety valve to offer mercy, justice, and second chances to those ensnared (disproportionately Black, Brown, Indigenous, and poor Americans) by a justice system that is sometimes too harsh. It has also been used to ensure domestic tranquility as after the Whiskey Rebellion and Civil War. But instead of using the pardon power for these noble purposes, President Trump has abused it to protect himself, his allies, and subvert the rule of law.

For more resources about the pardon power and how pardon abuses should be addressed, click here.