Since Trump lost the election six weeks ago, calls and emails have been pouring into the West Wing from people looking to tap into the president’s powers of clemency. Trump employees have been so inundated with requests for pardons or mitigations that a spreadsheet has been created to track requests directed at Trump’s close aides.
Yet Trump, refusing to acknowledge his loss and whom officials say is turning into more denial, has been eager to engage with whoever asks for what. Case summaries have been submitted for review, and in some cases, he has polled his network of colleagues who should be pardoned.
As his presidency draws to a close, Trump appears eager to exercise his powers before he finds them fading. Unlike any other issue of the end of his presidency, his powers of clemency is one that Trump seems to actually enjoy discussing, as someone in contact with the president said, although it serves as another tacit reminder that his term in the White House is about to end.
This is in stark contrast to the way Trump responded to other, smaller efforts as Inauguration Day approaches: an effort to persuade Trump to accept the election results.
The Electoral College confirmation of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory this week did not seem sufficient to shake Trump from his illusions of victory, but it does add an urgency to push many of his advisers to gently direct Trump toward reality. Many of his closest allies have urged him to press ahead with his efforts to run in the elections and begin planning his political future after the White House – including a possible round in 2024.
Yet even in the midst of the stubborn movement to transition and rapid lame duck activity – which he is partly involved with himself – Trump is firmly refusing to acknowledge his loss.
In his deep moments of denial, Trump told some advisers that he would refuse to leave the White House on Inauguration Day, only to be lowered from that ledge. The prospect alarmed some aides, but few believed Trump would actually follow through.
One of the counselors said, “He’s having a tantrum.” “He’s leaving. It just explodes.”
The White House declined to comment for this report.
Yet even amid his delusions, Trump is acting like a president in the winter: Abandoning the main responsibilities of his job while looking for ways to reward loyalists while he still can.
Pay the pardon
Nowhere is the end of Trump’s term more apparent than the push for amnesty.
“It turned crazy,” said one person familiar with the effort. “There is a lot of activity.”
Because Trump has shown little interest in using the Department of Justice’s general amnesty system to assess requests for executive clemency, the petitioners contact the White House directly, calling or emailing Senior Counsel Jared Kushner, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, or White House Counsel Pat Cipolloni – When they can’t get Trump himself.
“Everyone assumed that there was no formal process and they should communicate with the administration directly,” the person said. “Everyone hopes to have a friend of a friend who’s a friend of their cousin who they hope will push them to read their email.”
If there is a principle that governs who appears most likely to secure clemency, it is someone the boss knows personally or has strong connections that exert pressure on his behalf. At least one person working on behalf of agents seeking a pardon said they hope their loyalty to Trump over the past four years will now pay off.
As it happens, Trump is contemplating pardon at a juncture in which loyalty is his main concern, having repeatedly complained over the past weeks that Republicans abandon him when he needed them to help cancel the election results.
It has pretty much froze those advisors and helpers not appearing on the same page. One person who used to speak to Trump regularly, but kindly encouraged him to soften his stance after the election, is no longer receiving his calls and has not heard from Trump in weeks.
In all, the president is considering pardoning more than twenty people in his orbit that he believes have been targeted – or may be targeted in the future – for political purposes. This is in addition to hundreds of requests from others who have contacted the White House directly, and tens of thousands of others whose petitions are pending at the Department of Justice.
Instead, Trump has focused more on those in his circle, including Michael Flynn, the former National Security Adviser who pardoned him last month.
Another among the many names being considered for clemency: Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer, who has come under scrutiny by investigators for his role in the silent payment.
As of this week, officials said a preemptive pardon to Trump himself was also not ruled out.
Efforts to persuade Trump to accept his loss were met with a president who appears increasingly entrenched in his denial of Biden’s victory, instigated by advisers such as Rudy Giuliani and Gina Ellis who are misleading Trump about the extent of the vote irregularities and the prospects. Reflection.
While Trump has begun to accept the fact that he lost the election late last month, advisers say Trump is now backing down and delving deeper – not just spreading disinformation about the election, but taking it up himself.
“He has been fed so misinformation that I think he actually believes this thing has been stolen from him,” one of Trump’s advisers said of the president.
The president has also begun to question whether he can appoint special advisers to investigate Hunter Biden and Trump’s unfounded allegations of voter fraud, according to a person familiar with the matter, a move Barr is believed to be against.
Cipollone, who is close to Barr, eventually helped arrange a meeting between the two men at the White House on Monday that led to a friendly exchange that ended with Barr offering of his resignation.
Trump tweeted Barr’s resignation letter 23 minutes after the Electoral College formally advised Biden. Because on particularly bad-news days – including after the Supreme Court rejected his efforts to nullify the votes – Trump refused to appear at his Christmas party, which was held on the one floor below his White House residence.
Avoid the topic
Inside the White House, on the rare occasion that talk turned to Inauguration Day or life after January 20, Trump was completely out of business. He has made it clear to staff in recent days that he does not want to discuss whether or not Biden will be sworn in, and has largely shut down any conversations about leaving his position, according to several people familiar with the discussions. For this reason, the president’s top aides have been reluctant to bring the matter up with him.
Those close to Trump continue to consider it unlikely that the outgoing president will attend Biden’s inauguration. “He won’t,” said one adviser of current thinking within Trump’s circle of allies.
Six weeks into Election Day, Trump spent more than half of his days without public appearing, showing little interest in the day-to-day work of being president. In all, there were 20 days without any public events whatsoever listed on Trump’s schedule in the weeks following Election Day, and no intelligence briefings. He has made 13 open press appearances, gave one interview on camera, and took questions from journalists on only two occasions. By contrast, he has spent nine days on his golf course.
Over the weekend, when he fled Washington for only the second time since Election Day to attend the Army and Navy match, Trump remained focused on his electoral loss. Driving in thick fog from the airport to the West Point campus, Trump issued a tweet complaining about the Republican governor of Georgia.
Once there, Trump did not stay until halftime, and returned to his plane after recording an interview with Fox News.
CNN’s Caitlan Collins and Jim Acosta contributed to this report.