Did Trump issue ‘pocket pardons?’

January 28, 2021

A number of political commentators have speculated  that Trump, in addition to awarding numerous pardons of dubious merit, may have also created what have been called “pocket pardons,” which they define as pardons which have not yet been made public. Such secret pardons, they believe, Trump would have done to benefit members of his family, possibly people like Rudy Giuliani and, most troubling, to benefit himself. Trump is already on record as claiming that he had a right to pardon himself, something that most Constitutional scholars dispute.

A former pardon attorney on one of the political talk shows states that such pardons are theoretically possible since there is no Constitutional requirement that the pardons be publicly disclosed. She was quick to note, however, that she knew of no instance where the existence of pardons was not made public. But, she also pointed out the necessity that, if a pardon was secretly made, there would have to be a contemporaneous written record of Trump’s doing so since his power to pardon ceased once he left the White House. Obviously, any person who was secretly pardoned would have the obligation to prove this was the case to avoid criminal prosecution.

With the impeachment trial looming Feb. 8, it is incumbent upon the Biden Administration or the Justice Department to investigate and determine if such “pocket pardons” do exist, and, if not, let that be known.  If they do exist, however, the names of those who have been pardoned should be disclosed as soon as possible to both the House managers as well as the general public. I can conceive of no privilege which would prevent their disclosure. Moreover, such actions in creating “pocket pardons,” particularly if Trump had pardoned himself, would be additional evidence of Trump’s culpability, further supporting the already very strong case for the Senate to find Trump guilty of the offenses set forth in the Article of Impeachment.  

Dan Toomey
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