Just hours before Thanksgiving, Donald Trump announced a pardon for former foreign agent Michael Flynn, the president's disgraced former White House national security advisor. Even for a Republican who's repeatedly faced accusations of abusing his pardon power, it was a uniquely corrupt act: Flynn committed a felony to benefit Trump, and then Trump used his power to shield Flynn from any consequences for his crimes.
But as it turns out, this was hardly the only controversy surrounding the outgoing president's pardon authority. NBC News had this report last night:
Federal investigators are looking into a potential "bribery-for-pardon" scheme involving presidential pardons, according to federal court documents unsealed by the chief judge for the federal court in Washington. The heavily redacted documents revealed Tuesday do not name the individuals involved or President Donald Trump. They also do not indicate if any White House officials had knowledge of the scheme.
Because of the redactions in the legal materials, there are more questions than answers in this controversy. But as Rachel noted at the top of last night's show, what we do know is striking in its own right.
According to the newly unsealed court documents, Justice Department prosecutors began investigating the secret lobbying scheme and bribery conspiracy, in which some people were suspected of trying to arrange bribes to Donald Trump in the form of "substantial" political contributions ahead of last month's elections. In exchange for the financial support, they expected the Republican to issue "a presidential pardon or reprieve of sentence" for someone whose name is redacted.
In late August, the judge in the case, Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell, reviewed the evidence and approved a request from federal prosecutors to examine devices -- computer drives, laptops, phones, etc. -- that had been seized under a search warrant as part of the investigation.
Was anyone charged? Was Trump aware of the scheme? What made the suspected bribers think they could effectively buy a presidential pardon from Trump? At this point, we don't know, but it's a story that's unlikely to fade away quickly.
And in case questions about Trump and pardons weren't loud enough, the New York Times published this report overnight:
President Trump has discussed with advisers whether to grant pre-emptive pardons to his children, to his son-in-law and to his personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, and talked with Mr. Giuliani about pardoning him as recently as last week, according to two people briefed on the matter. Mr. Trump has told others that he is concerned that a Biden Justice Department might seek retribution against the president by targeting the oldest three of his five children — Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and Ivanka Trump — as well as Ms. Trump's husband, Jared Kushner, a White House senior adviser.
Questions along these lines are unusual for a wide variety of reasons, not the least of which is the pre-emptive nature of the possible pardons: none of these people close to the president has been charged with any crimes, which means Trump would be issuing pre-emptive pardons to his controversial lawyer and members of his immediate family.
Of course, as the Times' report added, "Presidential pardons, however, do not provide protection against state or local crimes," and given the investigations that are ongoing in New York, this may prove to be a highly relevant detail.
Watch this space.