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Donald Trump has weeks to use the last dregs of his remaining power in the US, as President-Elect Joe Biden will take office on January 20, 2020. Numerous alterations to the constitution have hamstrung outgoing presidents and reduced their ability to a limited set of acts. Amongst those abilities is pardoning, one of the few things Mr Trump can do without approval from the House or Senate.
Can Donald Trump pardon anyone he wants?
Mr Trump has already surged ahead with pardoning people close to him.
The first person to receive a presidential pardon under the President this year was Michael Flynn, a former Trump national security advisor.
The President’s pardon clears Flynn of anything related to the investigation the FBI conducted into his ties with Russia.
The Justice Department wrote the pardon also absolves him of “any possible future perjury or contempt charge in connection with General Flynn’s sworn statements and any other possible future charge that this Court or the court-appointed amicus has suggested might somehow keep this criminal case alive over the government’s objection.”
Flynn’s pardon illustrates the power of the President when it comes to absolving people.
Pardons can absolve people of some high-profile federal crimes, but this is ultimately a limitation as well.
A president cannot use a pardon to dismiss charges related to separate federal, civil, state or local offences in the US.
So Mr Trump can pardon anyone he wants, as long as their crimes took place on a federal level.
After their pardon, they cannot face charges or conviction for the alleged crimes the pardon covers, but they can still receive punishment for other federal, state, civil or local crimes.
The pardon also depends on the person, as people can reject one if they choose.
However, most presidential pardons come after a request is made to the Pardon Attorney in the Justice Department, so many people who receive a pardon may have asked for one.
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Can Donald Trump pardon himself?
As the President issues his final pardons, people have also raised the possibility he could give one to himself.
Tweeting in 2018, he said: “As has been stated by numerous legal scholars, I have the absolute right to PARDON myself, but why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong?
“In the meantime, the never-ending Witch Hunt, led by 13 very Angry and Conflicted Democrats (& others) continues into the mid-terms!”
Mr Trump is not expecting any legal action, so any pardon he directs at himself would be pre-emptive.
The President can issue pre-emptive pardons for other people, but whether he could do so while still commander-in-chief remains undecided.
No-one in his position has ever done so before, although the successors of outgoing presidents have pardoned their predecessors.
When Richard Nixon resigned in the wake of the Watergate scandal of 1972, Gerald Ford pardoned him before he could face charges.
If Mr Trump wanted to do it, he could use the 25th amendment to pass his powers to Mike Pence for a pardon, and then take up the mantle again.
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