After Richard Nixon was forced to resign in disgrace in 1974, the Republican’s troubles were not over. In fact, upon leaving the White House, the former president had more to worry about than just history’s judgment: Nixon was still suspected of committing a variety of felonies.
The historical context matters: by the summer of 1974, former Vice President Spiro Agnew had been confronted with a multi-count criminal indictment and was forced from office; former President Nixon resigned rather than face inevitable impeachment and conviction; and the new president of the United States, Gerald Ford, was a man whom literally no one had elected to national office.
It was against this backdrop that Americans faced the prospect of a development that was not far-fetched: Nixon’s criminal indictment. Ford, concerned about the effects of a former president on trial, announced on Sept. 8, 1974, that he’d given Nixon a “full, free, and absolute pardon” for any criminal acts committed during his White House tenure. Ford’s presidency was still in its first month.
There has been decades’ worth of debate over whether Ford did the right thing. Did the accidental president spare a divided and exhausted nation a painful political trauma, or did he needlessly interfere with the rule of law, setting a dangerous precedent?
A half-century later, there’s another Republican president in the White House, who also may have run afoul of a variety laws. With this in mind, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) made an interesting declaration yesterday in a blog post published to Medium about Donald Trump’s many scandals.
[L]et me be perfectly clear, in the way that everyone who might be President next should be: If I’m elected President of the United States, there will be no pardons for anyone implicated in these investigations.
Everyone who might succeed Donald Trump as president should adopt the same policy.
Once in a while, an unexpected issue becomes important in a presidential race, and this one falls into that category nicely.
For the sake of conversation, let’s say that the Justice Department sticks to the current belief that a sitting president cannot face a criminal indictment. If you watch The Rachel Maddow Show, you know this is a point of considerable contention, but for now, let’s put that debate aside and assume that Trump will not face charges so long as he’s in office.
That raises the possibility of Trump being indicted after he’s no longer president, whenever that may be. If that happens, will his successor be inclined to pull a Gerald Ford? Given the extraordinary nature of our current circumstances, that’s not an unreasonable question for candidates to answer.
What’s more, this isn’t limited to Trump specifically. Some members of the Republican’s inner circle have already been convicted of a variety of felonies, and others may yet be implicated. The list of Trump World individuals seeking pardons may be quite long.
Warren wants to be on record opposing any such pardons. Don’t be surprised if her 2020 Democratic rivals start sharing their perspective on the same issue.