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Now I Get It: What is Trump’s power to pardon?

Kate Murphy

This week, special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible links between Russia and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign resulted in criminal charges against three former campaign advisers, leaving some to wonder if Trump will exercise his power to pardon.

Paul Manafort, formerly Trump’s campaign chairman, and Rick Gates, Manafort’s longtime business associate, were indicted on 12 counts each. These federal criminal charges include conspiracy against the U.S., money laundering and working as unregistered foreign agents.
Manafort and Gates pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Each could face up to 40 years in prison and millions of dollars in fines.

In addition, George Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser to Trump’s presidential campaign, pleaded guilty earlier this month to lying to the F.B.I. about his contacts with people who had ties to the Russian government. Thanks to a plea deal, Papadopoulos faces relatively little to no prison time and a fine up to $9,500.

In July, Trump tweeted that “the U.S. president has the complete power to pardon.”
And he’s right — the Constitution grants presidents an unfettered pardon authority, and Trump can do it at any time without waiting on a potential conviction.

However, Trump doesn’t have the power to pardon anyone for charges from state or local authorities.

So what would a presidential pardon do?

According to the Justice Department, a presidential pardon “does not signify innocence.” It also doesn’t erase the conviction for which the pardon was granted, if there was one, and the conviction wouldn’t be removed from someone’s criminal record.

But it would “remove civil disabilities […] imposed because of the conviction for which pardon is sought, and should lessen the stigma arising from the conviction.”

While Trump has expressed his outrage over the indictments in a series of tweets, he has yet to indicate whether he’ll use his power to pardon.