Before President Joe Biden was sworn into office Wednesday, President Donald Trump released his list of presidential pardons. It's customary for an outgoing president to wait until the last hours of their time in office before announcing who they will pardon, and in the case of Trump, one came with minutes to spare.
The White House released the list of the 143 pardons and commutations early Wednesday morning. Then with less than an hour left in his presidency, Trump added one more pardon for Al Pirro Jr., the ex-husband of
News host Jeanine Pirro. The most notable names include Trump's former chief strategist Steve Bannon, ex-Uber engineer Anthony Levandowski and rappers Lil Wayne and
Black. A name that didn't make the list was Joe Exotic from the Netflix documentary Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, who reportedly had readied a limo ready to pick him up from prison, according to Metro. Trump also didn't pardon any of the Capitol Hill rioters.
Here's what you need to know about presidential pardoning.
Who did Trump pardon Wednesday?
The list released by the White House includes 73 pardons and 70 commutations. The majority of names on the list are for those arrested for non-violent drug offenses who are either currently incarcerated or have already been released from prison and will now have a clean record.
Some of the more recognizable names include:
- Lil Wayne faced up to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon last December.
- Rapper Kodak Black received a sentence of 46 months in 2019 for making a false statement on a federal document to buy firearms.
- Steve Bannon was charged last August for defrauding a fundraising campaign to partially pay for the southern border wall.
- Anthony Levandowski was a former Google engineer who then worked for Uber and pleaded guilty to stealing trade secrets from his previous employer.
- Elliot Broidy was a former Republican fundraiser who was charged with violating foreign lobbying laws.
- Kwame Kilpatrick was the former mayor of Detroit and received a sentence of 28 years for fraud, racketeering, extortion and bribery while in office.
- Former Arizona Congressman Rick Renzi was convicted in 2013 for extortion, bribery, insurance fraud, money laundering, and racketeering.
Minutes before President Biden was sworn in, Trump signed one more pardon for Al Pirro Jr. who is the ex-husband of Fox News host, Jeanine Pirro. The former president called-in to her show numerous times over the course of his term. Pirro served time for a conspiracy and tax evasion charge back in 2000.
Why didn't Trump give himself a pardon?
The Constitution doesn't explicitly bar a president from granting self-clemency against prosecution. In the event that Trump tested the law, it could come down to interpretation. Some legal scholars suggest that if there's no explicit rule against self-pardoning in the text, then it isn't legal.
"No president has the constitutional authority to self-pardon," said Jared Carter, assistant professor at Vermont Law School.
While no president has yet attempted to pardon himself, President Richard Nixon did ask the Office of Legal Counsel in 1974 for an opinion on the matter while he was entrenched in the Watergate scandal.
"Under the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case, the president cannot pardon himself," Mary C. Lawton, acting assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel, said in a memo on Aug. 5, 1974. Nixon resigned on Aug. 9, 1974.
In purely academic terms, if Trump weren't impeached and attempted to go through with the action before the end of his presidency, the only way to test the legality of a self-pardon would have been for him to be charged with a federal crime. This would, theoretically, most likely have occurred through the Department of Justice after Biden takes office on Jan. 20. From there, the case would hypothetically have to make its way to the Supreme Court, which would ultimately decide the legality of a self-pardon. Again, the situation has now changed.
Can Congress revoke Trump's pardons?
Not really, or rather, not without some interpretation provided by the Supreme Court. In general, Congress doesn't question presidential pardons, but considering Trump has been impeached by the House of Representatives and awaiting trial in the Senate, there might be some post-trial legislation drafted to try and overturn his actions. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court at some point would have to weigh-in and decide whether it's unconstitutional to do so.
Who else did Trump pardon while in office?
Trump had pardoned 70 people before Jan. 20. This includes former members of his campaign and staff who made false statements to federal agents -- Michael Flynn, Roger Stone, Paul Manafort and George Papadopoulos. He also granted posthumous pardons to women's rights activist Susan B. Anthony and early 20th-century championship boxer Jack Johnson.
Could President Biden pardon Trump?
This is a highly unlikely move by the president, but there are some people saying Biden should consider the option if Trump is charged with a federal crime. One of the most notable voices in favor of this is the former director of the FBI, James Comey -- who was fired by Trump himself.
"He [Biden] should at least consider it," Comey said on Jan. 13. "I obviously think he [Trump] belongs in jail, but I don't think pursuing that is in the best interests of the entire nation."
So far, there is no indication the Biden administration is contemplating such a pardon.