Could President Trump issue preemptive pardons before leaving office?

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A pardon parade would be perfectly legal for President Trump, who like all American presidents, essentially has the right to pardon anyone for any reason. But mercy does have some limitations; it can't be done in exchange for a favor or a fee, and it is uncertain whether a president can pardon himself for something he or she might be charged with doing in the future. Now, there are legal questions about so-called "preemptive pardons" that could be considered before he leaves office.

"Yes, I do have an absolute right to pardon myself, but I'll never have to do it because I didn't do anything wrong. And everybody knows it," President Trump told reporters in 2018.

Now, exactly seven weeks from his first full day as an ex-president, the pardon question couldn't be muddier.

"There is no authority for issuing a pardon for something that hasn't yet happened and may happen down the road. That's, there's no authority for that. There is authority for what we call a pre emptive pardon and that is to pardon someone who has already committed some act but hasn't yet been charged with it," said Gil Soffer, ABC7 Legal Analyst, Katten Law. The former Chicago federal prosecutor told the I-Team that it isn't clear whether a president can pardon himself because it's never been tested.

"I think a pardon should be appropriate to my situation," George Papadopoulos told Chuck Goudie exclusively on Wednesday.

The path would be clear for President Trump to pardon Papadopoulos, the Chicagoan convicted of lying in the Russia meddling investigation, and Chicago banker Stephen Calk, awaiting trial in bribery case from his time as an economic adviser to the 2016 Trump campaign; and Ukrainian gas tycoon Dmitry Firtash, fighting extradition to Chicago where he is faces a bribery indictment. Also eligible is whistleblower Edward Snowden, an ex CIA operative who in this tweet today encouraged the president to free Julian Assange the Wikileaks founder charged with publishing state secrets.

"The President's free to issue any of these pardons but if he has some wish to come back in four years and run for president for some of his children or his family to come and to run for president, he does have to be sensitive to any political blowback that might come from a pardon," Soffer told the I-Team.

Even though ABC News has learned that White House discussions have taken place concerning preemptive pardons, the president could decide to issue no pardons or very few. Nothing has been announced -- or even acknowledged -- and it could be done on Wednesday January 20, 2021, the day that Donald Trump leaves the White House and Joe Biden takes the oath of office.
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