Fox News host Sean Hannity, a loyal defender of Donald Trump, has suggested that the outgoing president should move to use the presidential pardon for his own protection against a supposed legal onslaught from the incoming Biden administration.
However, legal experts have reiterated that presidents cannot pardon themselves.
During a discussion about unfounded theories that this year’s presidential election was stolen from Mr Trump, Mr Hannity raised the spectre of an endless legal “witch hunt” against Mr Trump, his family and his close allies.
“I watched [Mueller investigation attorney] Andrew Weissman come out and literally say ‘oh, Biden’s AG needs to go after Donald Trump,’” the host recounted.
“And I’m like, the president out the door needs to pardon his whole family and himself, because they want this witch hunt to go on in perpetuity … I assume that the power of the pardon is absolute, and that he should be able to pardon anybody that he wants to.”
The presidential pardon, which Mr Trump recently extended to his disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn, has been used extensively by various presidents, including to the benefit of controversial friends and associates.
However, the question of whether Mr Trump can use it to head off any risk of being prosecuted himself seems to be closed.
Former White House ethics lawyer Richard Painter told MSNBC this weekend that as per a decision reached by the Justice Department in the last days of the Nixon presidency, “there is no such thing as a self-pardon.
“A pardon is an act of one person pardoning another person. The only way he can receive a pardon is to receive it from a president Joe Biden, or to resign the presidency and receive a pardon from Mike Pence if Mike Pence wants to serve the remainder of the term.
“A self-pardon is a no-go.”
As Mr Painter also pointed out, presidential pardons only cover federal offences. They do not bar state attorneys general from investigating, charging and prosecuting anyone for state-level offences — and it is at that level, specifically in New York state, that the Trump Organisation faces serious legal challenges.
Indeed, for Mr Trump to pardon himself and/or members of his family, he would have to name specific crimes they were charged with or had pleaded guilty to — and the premise of Mr Hannity’s speculation is that the president is an innocent man under attack.
Besides Mr Hannity, others among Mr Trump’s more dogged Republican allies have lately suggested using the pardon power as a pre-emptive move against any potential legal attacks from Democrats.
Florida congressman Matt Gaetz lately argued on Fox News that the president should pardon everyone from “Flynn, the Thanksgiving turkey, and everyone from himself, to his admin, to Joe Exotic if he has to”. This, he said, is the only way to resist the left’s “bloodlust”, which he claimed will only be satisfied by going after former Trump administration officials.
Mr Hannity offered his thoughts about the presidential pardon on his radio show in the midst of an interview with Mr Flynn’s attorney, Sidney Powell.
Ms Powell is a high-profile proponent of lurid and unfounded theories about the supposed theft of the 2020 presidential election, which she claims was manipulated by a conspiracy of foreign actors in China, Serbia, Germany, and Cuba — as well as the family of long-deceased Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez.
She was briefly a member of the Trump campaign’s legal team, but was cut loose after a televised press conference at which she espoused these and other bizarre theories. Her appearance was widely ridiculed at a time when the legal assault on the election was already under pressure, and the campaign issued a statement disowning her just a few days later.