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New transcripts shed light on Trump’s interest in Jan. 6 pardons

Donald Trump may have publicly told Jan. 6 rioters, “You will pay,” but away from the cameras, his true focus was on possible “blanket pardons.”


Donald Trump’s abuses of his pardon powers were a staple of his failed term: As regular readers may recall, the former president used his presidential authority to reward loyalists, assist cover-ups, undermine federal law enforcement, and dole out perverse favors to the politically connected.

But 11 months ago, the Republican appeared to break new ground during a rally in Texas. Reflecting on steps he’d take if he were to return to the White House, Trump told supporters, “Another thing we’ll do, and so many people have been asking me about it, if I run and if I win, we will treat those people from January 6 fairly — and if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons, because they are being treated so unfairly.”

In the months that followed, the former president returned to the subject several times, suggesting it had become a fairly important priority. What was less clear, however, was when Trump first started heading down this road. The New York Times reported overnight:

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol released on Tuesday 18 additional transcripts that provided more details about how former President Donald J. Trump considered “blanket pardons” for those charged in connection with the Capitol riot, and how several of his top political allies pushed unsuccessfully to be included in such pardons.

According to the latest batch of Jan. 6 committee transcripts, it was Johnny McEntee, Trump’s director of personnel, who told congressional investigators that the then-president, during his final days in office, floated the idea of a “blanket pardon” for the breach of the Capitol.

It didn’t happen because then-White House counsel Pat Cipollone balked.

Nevertheless, the larger context paints an ugly picture: In public, Trump first raised the prospect of pardons for insurrectionist rioters in January 2022, but in private, he expressed interest in a “blanket pardon” more than a full year earlier.

Also note the contrast between the then-president’s public and private comments. He said on Jan. 7, for example, “Like all Americans, I am outraged by the violence, lawlessness and mayhem.” He went on to describe the riot as a “heinous attack.”

Reading from a prepared text, Trump added: “The demonstrators who infiltrated the Capitol have defiled the seat of American democracy. ... To those who engage in the acts of violence and destruction: You do not represent our country, and to those who broke the law: You will pay.”

Five days later, the Republican condemned the “mob [that] stormed the Capitol and trashed the halls of government.” On the final full day of his term, again reading from a script, Trump said: “All Americans were horrified by the assault on our Capitol. Political violence is an attack on everything we cherish as Americans. It can never be tolerated.”

Obviously, his posture toward the rioters has changed dramatically — Trump now celebrates those who attacked the Capitol and has talked about supporting them financially — but the newly released transcripts help prove that he didn’t even mean what he said at the time. The then-president may have publicly told the attackers, “You will pay,” but away from the cameras, his true focus was on possible blanket pardons for his radicalized backers.

What’s more, it wasn’t just rioters. From the Times’ report:

Mr. McEntee recalled Mr. Cipollone also rejected Mr. Trump’s idea that all White House staff should be pardoned, even those who had played no role in the president’s push to overturn the 2020 election. “I remember Cipollone questioning on that, ‘Well, why does anyone need a pardon?’” Mr. McEntee recalled, adding that the president had responded, “‘Well, just so they can’t go after them for any little thing.’ And I think Cipollone said, ‘Yeah, but no one here has done anything wrong.’”

Americans already had reason to believe that Trump — a self-professed champion of “law and order” — saw pardons as get-out-of-jail-free cards to be handed out like party favors. The latest evidence adds fresh weight to the indictment.