In a normal presidential administration, Donald Trump's corrupt pardons, many of which were issued in the aftermath of his 2020 defeat, would've been an era-defining scandal. As regular readers may recall, the Republican used his pardon power to reward loyalists, complete cover-ups, undermine federal law enforcement, and dole out perverse favors to the politically connected.
He's nevertheless eager to add to this ignominious record. NBC News reported that the former president suggested on Saturday night that he's prepared to pardon defendants charged in connection with the Jan. 6 riot.
"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," Trump said during a rally in Conroe, Texas. "And if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons because they are being treated so unfairly."
Let's not forget, the day after the insurrectionist attack on the U.S. Capitol, the then-president said, while reading from a prepared text, "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 added, "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."
Evidently, Trump has changed his mind.
And while the prospect of presidential pardons for Jan. 6 rioters is obviously indefensible — even several prominent Republicans balked at the idea during Sunday show appearance — it's important not to miss the forest for the trees.
If voters were to return Trump to power in January 2025, that would likely be too late to help the rioters sentenced to prison terms, because most of their sentences would be over by then. With this in mind, the former president may very well be sending a signal to others, letting his allies know that he's still eager to use pardons to buy his confederates' silence.
Indeed, the message to those who may be willing to engage in future political violence is hardly subtle: If given the chance, Trump has no qualms about corrupt rewards for those who do whatever they can to hand him power.
But this wasn't the only important comment the Republican made in Conroe. The New York Times reported:
In his speech on Saturday, Mr. Trump also took aim at the New York State attorney general and the Manhattan district attorney, both of whom have been investigating his businesses for possible fraud, and at the district attorney in Fulton County, Ga., who is empaneling a special grand jury to investigate Mr. Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in that state. He urged his supporters to organize large protests in New York and Atlanta, as well as in Washington, if those investigations led to action against him.
The former president left little doubt that he's worried about the investigations being led by New York State Attorney General Letitia James, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg Jr., and Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis.
"They're trying to put me in jail," he said. "These prosecutors are vicious, horrible people. They're racists and they're very sick. They're mentally sick.... If these radical, vicious, racist prosecutors do anything wrong or illegal, I hope we are going to have in this country the biggest protests we have ever had in Washington, D.C., in New York, in Atlanta and elsewhere."
Just so we're all clear, Trump has faced plenty of investigations led by men he despised — Robert Mueller, Adam Schiff, Eric Schneiderman, et al. — but he never accused them of being racists. Instead, he's decided to apply the label to three Black law enforcement officials.
The fear, of course, is that Trump is opening the door to mob action, inviting "the biggest protests we have ever had" in the cities where law enforcement may hold him accountable for his alleged misdeeds — while simultaneously touting possible pardons for Jan. 6 attackers.
In other words, at the same event in which Trump raised the prospects of handing out get-out-of-jail-free cards to members of one mob, he also suggested he's prepared to call for the formation of additional mobs to do his bidding.