Former President Donald Trump’s legal troubles in multiple federal criminal investigations have raised a significant question among his rivals in the 2024 race: would they pardon Trump if they’re elected?
The president’s pardon power is set forth in the Constitution and is considered an expression of forgiveness typically granted if an individual accepts responsibility for a crime and establishes good conduct for a certain period of time after conviction or completion of a sentence, according to the Department of Justice.
While the power has generally been used after a person has been convicted, some presidents have issued pardons prior to the commencement of criminal prosecutions, according to Marc Scholl, who served as a criminal prosecutor in New York.
Trump is currently scheduled to go to trial in May 2024 over his alleged mishandling of classified documents kept at his Mar-a-Lago estate after he left the White House in 2021. He was indicted in that case last month. Trump is also facing a potential indictment in an investigation connected to the 2020 election and Capitol attack on Jan. 6, 2021.
Here are the candidates leaning towards a pardon:
- Vivek Ramaswamy
- Nikki Haley
- Larry Elder
Here are the candidates leaning against a pardon:
- Chris Christie
- Asa Hutchinson
- Will Hurd
Here are the candidates who haven’t given a definite answer:
- Ron DeSantis
- Mike Pence
- Tim Scott
- Francis Suarez
- Doug Burgum
Here’s a closer look at what these GOP candidates have said about pardoning Trump:
Candidates leaning towards pardon: ‘The issue is less about guilt’
After Trump was indicted in the classified documents investigation, biotechnology entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy criticized the Department of Justice in a tweet and wrote that he commits to “pardon Trump promptly on January 20, 2025 and to restore the rule of law in our country.”
Ramaswamy has spoken out against Trump’s indictments suggesting they are politically motivated. He told USA TODAY during an interview that Trump’s pardon would be a precondition for “moving forward with integrity in this country.”
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley stood on similar ground. She said in a radio interview last month on “The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show” that if the claims in the classified documents indictment are true, then Trump was “incredibly reckless with national security.”
However, she also said the question of a pardon is different, and she would be “inclined in favor” of it, though she noted these discussions are still premature.
“When you look at a pardon, the issue is less about guilt and more about what’s good for the country,” Haley said. “And I think it would be terrible for the country to have a former president in prison for years because of a documents case.”
Larry Elder’s campaign confirmed to USA TODAY that the conservative commentator would pardon Trump. Elder alleged in an interview with Scripps News that there’s a double standard in the criminal justice system between Democrats and Republicans.
Candidates leaning against pardon: ‘No place in a campaign’
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, one of Trump’s most vocal critics, said in an interview with USA TODAY he wouldn’t be inclined to pardon Trump if he became president.
“You have to see what kind of trial they got, what the evidence is, what their sense of remorse is, if any, what responsibility they take for what they did,” Christie said. “I think he’ll fail at the idea of a pardon because, in the end, he won’t do the things that legally you’re supposed to do have in place to be able to get a pardon.”
However, Christie also said that he wouldn’t want to see a former president − especially one of Trump’s age − behind bars, arguing that’s something to be taken into consideration.
Likewise, former Texas Rep. Will Hurd told “CBS Mornings” that he would not pardon Trump when discussing the classified documents probe and his 2024 presidential bid last month.
“Here is why that this is frustrating to me,” Hurd said. “Donald Trump knew the kinds of information that he had and when you look at the classifications of these documents, these are information that if got in the wrong hands would lead to a loss of life. That is what makes this case different and the fact that Donald Trump willingly kept that material and he wants to be the leader of the free world is unacceptable to me.”
In an interview on NewsNation last month, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said that it was “almost juvenile behavior” to sign a pledge to pardon Trump if elected. He also called on Trump to drop out of the 2024 race and said a pardon “should have no place in a campaign or a serious discussion of the office of president” in an interview on Scripps News’ “Morning Rush.”
After Trump was indicted last month, Hutchinson said in a statement that Trump’s actions should “not define our nation or the Republican Party.”
Candidates without a definitive answer
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who’s trailing behind Trump in GOP primary polls, indicated that he would be pursuing pardons aggressively, alleging that the Department of Justice has been weaponized. However, he didn’t give a clear answer on whether Trump would be excused.
“Some of these cases, some people may have a technical violation of the law,” DeSantis told radio hosts Clay Travis and Buck Sexton last month. “But if there are three other people who did the same thing, but just in a context like BLM and they don’t get prosecuted at all, that is uneven application of justice, and so we’re going to find ways where that did not happen.”
On Fox Business’ “Varney & Co,” Miami Mayor Francis Suarez suggested he would pardon Trump, though he didn’t give a clear answer on the matter either.
“I think he’s entitled to due process like everybody else in this country,” Suarez said. “If I become the President of the United States, what I think is appropriate for a president to use the pardon power to heal the country, and that goes for both Republicans and Democrats. That’s what I would do if I become the President of the United States.”
Former Vice President Mike Pence said earlier this month that a pardon would only be appropriate to weigh if Trump was found guilty.
“I’ve been a governor, I’ve actually pardoned people,” Pence said. “And I think any pardon that you could conduct would only be appropriate to consider after somebody has been found guilty. And I don’t know why some of my competitors in the Republican primary assume the president’s going to be found guilty.”
Other candidates have dodged the question altogether. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., said that he is “not going to deal with the hypotheticals” in an interview on “Fox News Sunday” last month. He added that “every American is innocent until proven guilty.”
Likewise, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum dismissed the question in an interview last month on “The Hugh Hewitt Show.”
“You’re asking me a hypothetical question about something from two years from now, when we don’t even know if this is going to go forward or if there’s even going to be a conviction, so I think I just tend to stay away from hypotheticals,” Burgum said.
Source: USA Today