After months of criticizing special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, President Donald Trump’s supporters are issuing increasingly bold calls for presidential pardons to limit the investigation’s impact.
“I think he should be pardoning anybody who’s been indicted and make it clear that anybody else who gets indicted would be pardoned immediately,” said Frederick Fleitz, a former CIA analyst and senior vice president at the conservative Center for Security Policy.
The pleas for mercy mainly extend to the four former Trump aides who have already been swept up in the Russia probe: former campaign manager Paul Manafort, former deputy campaign manager Rick Gates, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos. But they don’t stop there.
“It’s kind of cruel what’s going on right now and the president should put these defendants out of their misery,” said Larry Klayman, a conservative legal activist. “I think he should pardon everybody — and pardon himself.”
Klayman and Fleitz spoke before Mueller indicted thirteen Russian nationals on Friday for staging an elaborate 2016 election interference operation in the United States. Democratic leaders said the hard evidence of Russian meddling underscores the importance of letting Mueller’s investigation run its course.
But many conservatives note that the new indictment shows no evidence of collusion between Trump associates and the Kremlin. That reinforces their view that Mueller’s real target, if any, should be Russian President Vladimir Putin — not Trump’s circle. “[H]ow long will the leftist witch hunt against @RealDonaldTrump continue,” the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., tweeted hours after the indictment’s release.
Trump's running out of time. Once Gates starts singing on Manafort -- and Trump -- things get a lot more complex. It shows how utterly terrified Trump's people are over the events of the weekend. The only out they see is mass pardons for everyone involved, including Trump himself. It's self-serving and awful, but it worked for Dubya and Scooter Libby and kept him out of prison.
The fact that the Trump people wasted no time going straight to pardons this week shows how shaken they are by this. They know full damn well more indictments are coming. Lots of them. Trump's people are going down and hard.
So why the pardon talk now? Trump may be more receptive to it. After all, people are beginning to openly question the legitimacy of his presidency after this weekend.
Mueller’s indictment details a well-financed propaganda campaign, undergirded by identity theft, wire fraud, and illegal subversion of U.S. election law, which involved the recruitment of unwitting American political activists, and the creation of thousands of troll accounts on social media. We know that this is just one compartment of the Russian government’s efforts to help Trump win, because it excludes charges related to the theft of Democratic emails, and it is silent on the multiple other channels Russia had available to them to harm Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, including propaganda outlets like RT and Sputnik, and a partnership with Wikileaks.
Whatever Trump’s specific awareness at the time of the facts alleged in the indictment, we know Trump and his most senior aides were aware that the Russian government was involving itself in the campaign on his behalf, and endeavored to encourage and conceal the meddling.
The fact that the election turned out to be so close is perhaps the crowning achievement of the conspiracy. With a budget of over $1 million a month to target swing state voters with disinformation on social media, multiple troves containing thousands of stolen emails, “news” outlets at your fingertips, the complicity of a major party political nominee, and impunity from American law, could you move 80,000 votes in three states?
It’s clearly not crazy to believe the answer is yes, and thus that the crimes that made the election unfair also determined its outcome. In an election so close that many individual factors were decisive, a major foreign espionage attack surely could have been as well. The difference is that the other factors were seemingly legal, and internal to American politics.
There is no mechanism in American politics to annul a corrupted election, and a congressional majority determined to prop up a president who cheated his way to power can assure he serves out his term. But a question mark like the one that now hangs over Trump’s victory is a potent political fact unto itself, and acknowledging it is perhaps our best means of stigmatizing the bad deeds Trump engaged in to win the presidency. We can’t ignore it because it feels uncouth, or even because those who want to undermine American democracy are surely thrilled that an argument over whether the election was stolen for Trump is now inevitable.
You have to admit, issuing blanket pardons would definitely change the narrative, because right now the narrative is becoming lethal for Trump and the 2018 chances for the GOP in the midterms.