More will be revealed now that Trump is out of power and Congress is moving quickly to the second impeachment as the trial begins 8 February. Lawfare ahead, getting medieval again.
Donald Trump left office with a spree of last-minute pardons, but is it possible there are more? Did the norm-breaking president break one more on his way out the door, issuing pardons in secret to his friends, family or even himself, break-in-case-of-emergency documents to be produced if necessary? If so, that would be a legally dubious step, inconsistent with the pardon power.
If Trump prepared pardons without telling anyone, he probably saw them as a way to satisfy two competing goals: avoiding offending Republican senators who could still vote to convict him in his impeachment trial and having a hidden defense ready if the Biden Justice Department proceeds against Trump or those close to him. Keeping the pardons quiet unless they are needed would also prevent Trump from appearing to dare the Justice Department to challenge a self-pardon, if he went that unprecedented route.
Nobody knows for certain whether a secret pardon would be upheld in court because it has never been tested. However, the pardon power as imagined by the Constitution’s framers is checked by the ballot box, impeachment and the judgment of history. How can a president be made answerable for decisions that no one knows about?
In the heat of Watergate, The Post reported that “there is nothing in the federal regulations that requires public notification,” paraphrasing Lawrence M. Traylor, the pardon attorney at the Justice Department. “The president could present himself with a written pardon during the next months, date it and quietly deposit it in a trust vault — ready to be pulled as a defense or waiver at any subsequent trial,” The Post noted, according to Traylor.
This view has gained traction recently. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) recently reintroduced the Presidential Pardon Transparency Act, a bill to prevent a president from issuing a secret pardon, and others have warned that Trump might have the power to do so.