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Biden (literally) laughs off question about possible Trump pardon

If Donald Trump is looking to Joe Biden for a get-out-of-jail-free card, the Republican should probably keep his expectations low.


President Joe Biden held a brief Q&A with reporters on the White House South Lawn yesterday afternoon, culminating in a question that the Democrat probably wasn’t expecting.

“Did you see that Ron DeSantis said that if he became president, he would pardon [Donald] Trump?” Fox News’ Peter Doocy asked. “Where are you on the idea of presidents pardoning Trump?”

Biden, apparently chuckling to himself, waved goodbye to reporters and started to walk toward Marine One. The president said something that was hard to hear — he was facing the helicopter, not the press — before he turned, shrugged a bit, and added, “It’s a great question. Thank you.”

For the record, the Florida governor didn’t exactly say that he’d pardon Trump if elected next year. During an appearance on a conservative talk show last week — his first full day as an official presidential candidate — DeSantis was asked twice whether he’d pardon the former Republican president. He replied, “I would say any example of this favored treatment based on politics, or weaponization, would be included in [a review of cases warranting possible pardons], no matter how small or how big.”

Nevertheless, it was Biden’s smiling reaction that stood out as notable.

If this subject sounds at all familiar, it’s not your imagination. In October 2019, while campaigning in Iowa, Biden was asked whether he might follow Gerald Ford’s example in pardoning Richard Nixon after Watergate, at a time when the Republican still faced possible prosecution. Biden said he would choose a different course.

“It wouldn’t unite the country,” Biden said, adding, “I think President Ford, God love him, he’s a good guy, I knew him pretty well. I think if he had to do it over again, he wouldn’t have done it.”

The topic returned to the fore in May 2020, when Biden joined Stacey Abrams for a virtual town hall-style event on MSNBC, and a voter, referencing the Ford/Nixon example, asked Biden whether he’d publicly commit to a more hands-off approach and leave such matters in the hands of prosecutors.

“Absolutely, yes,” the future president replied. “I commit.”

Of course, in 2019 and 2020, the prospect of Trump being indicted was entirely hypothetical. The Republican had not yet tried to overturn his election defeat, for example, and he hadn’t yet refused to return classified materials he improperly took to his glorified country club in Florida.

But in 2023, the question has become highly relevant. The former president has already been indicted once, and no one in either party would be especially surprised if more charges soon follow. Biden wouldn’t be able to pardon his predecessor in response to state charges — in New York and Georgia, for example — but the incumbent president would at least have the authority to intervene in the event of federal indictments.

Biden, however, has said he has no intention of doing so, and the fact that he literally laughed off a question about this yesterday suggested he hasn’t changed his mind.

It’s a safe bet the public would see plenty of commentary about how nice it would be for Biden to be magnanimous in the spirit of bipartisan comity, but by all appearances, if Trump is looking to his successor for a get-out-of-jail-free card, he should keep his expectations low.