The DeVoses and a Pence Pardon for Trump

WaPo wrote a long story about how two DeVos machine Republicans, Mike Shirkey and Lee Chatfield, went to the White House and declined to join in Donald Trump’s coup attempt. The story either chose not to mention or simply preceded the reports that the lawmakers spent the night at Trump Hotel, running up big bills for Dom Perignon, which doesn’t seem like the thing you’d do if you had just turned down a bribe to steal the election.

Presumably because it was written for a national audience, the story didn’t get into what ruthless shitholes these men are. These are men who’ve presided over attempts to undermine Gretchen Whitmer’s COVID response and refused to prohibit guns from the capitol building. And while Chatfield knocked down an effort to impeach Whitmer, Shirkey has largely facilitated the kind of eliminationist rhetoric that led to an assassination plot against Whitmer (both condemned the plot after it was thwarted).

MI journalist Susan Demas did a thread on what awful untrustworthy men they are.

Amid reports that Ronna not-Romney McDaniel is the favorite to become RNC Chair again — which stalwarts view as Trump’s attempt to run the RNC as his own operation, undercutting any challengers in 2024 — I find this quote in the WaPo story particularly interesting.

A fresh indication that Trump’s options are dwindling came Friday from an organization with close ties to his education secretary, Betsy DeVos. The conservative Michigan Freedom Fund, which the DeVos family finances, issued the following statement Friday: “The election is over. The results are in, and here in Michigan, they’re not going to change.”

There have been hints that Betsy and Dick were tiring of Trump already. Betsy’s former Chief of Staff, Josh Venable, even joined one of the anti-Trump groups during the election.

That has interesting implications for the fate of two men — Betsy’s brother Erik Prince and Trump himself.

To my mind, Erik Prince is one of Trump’s easiest pardons, both for his exposure for false statements to Congress about his back channel with Russia and for his efforts to sell mercenary services to China. That’s true because, unlike some others (like Roger Stone), Prince successfully lied his way through testimony without generating any other known legal exposure. He told his lies, did his service to Trump, and so couldn’t be forced to testify differently once his Fifth Amendment privileges disappeared. And his exposure on China — to the extent that Billy Barr hasn’t already killed this investigation beyond repair — doesn’t implicate Trump, and so is easy and clean for a President seeking to pay back loyalty. Plus, Prince is a big donor. What’s not to like?!?!

But the DeVoses are also very close to Mike Pence (he got Betsy hired, not Trump). And many of Trump’s other pardons — of people that could implicate Trump himself in crimes if they lost their Fifth Amendment protections — require that he also limit his own legal exposure (and of course, he can only do this on federal cases). He may well be planning a self-pardon, but a safer legal option would be an early resignation followed by a pardon from Pence.

In my opinion, Pence has a real incentive against such a pardon. That’s true, in part, because giving a far less controversial pardon to Richard Nixon really doomed Gerald Ford’s otherwise reasonable legacy. Pence spends a lot of time in Grand Rapids, where Ford’s tainted history is palpable.

That’s also true because Pence has further political ambitions. They may not be real ambitions, but a former Vice President would always consider himself a candidate for the Presidency. And counterintuitively, pardoning Trump would actually hurt those ambitions. That’s true because he’s not the most obvious inheritor of Trump’s legacy. Mike Pompeo has a higher profile and the same cachet among the Evangelical right. Don Jr has even suggested he might run, and if he did he could tap right into the furor his father created. Unlike both of them, Pence has mostly been a background figurehead, one who will be blamed for Trump’s biggest failing, on COVID. So if Pence pardoned Trump, it would only serve to allow one of the other Trump flunkies from capitalizing on his brand to become the presumptive 2024 nominee; it would hurt his own chances.

Still, unlike Pompeo, Pence is not inextricably linked to Trump’s crimes. Indeed, one of the bravest witnesses during impeachment, Jennifer Williams, was his aide. She even corrected her testimony to provide damning details after the fact. Everything we’ve seen from the Mueller Report also makes it clear that Pence was not in the loop of some of the most devious efforts to undermine America.

But Pence likely knows of some of that crime. He has heard some of the details of the Russian “collusion.” More importantly, he surely knows how a series of Trump campaign managers have engaged in grift that pursue ever more outrageous ways of getting rich off the process of pitching Trump, with Brad Parscale’s version only the most recent. Assuming he’s as insulated from this potentially criminal behavior as I think he he is, refusing to pardon Trump would be a way to undercut Trump’s legacy without lifting a finger. Even if Joe Biden’s Attorney General didn’t aggressively pursue new investigations, there are so many known open ones as to make Trump’s ongoing criminal exposure hard to contain.

That puts Pence — and with him, his close allies the DeVoses — in a remarkable position. To be clear, they are every bit as evil as Trump. We should assume however they wield that power will do little to help average Americans. But (caveats about Erik aside), they are differently evil than Trump.

And if they’ve decided Trump’s time is up, they have leverage that others don’t.

60 replies
  1. Philip S. Webster says:

    interesting post, EW. I think you are suggesting the DeVos’ evilness is their libertarian free market positions of keep the money for those alreay rich folk. Let the trickle down road apples supply almost nothing to the low meritocracy of those disadvantaged. Still an outrageous position except for those of the powerful moneyed plutocrats.

    Cannot believe how you keep this up. Thank you.

  2. Hugo says:

    Thanks. It is so important to remember that Pence is an independent actor. With that in mind, i think the resignation and pardon scenario runs up against another problem and that is Trump himself. While the benefits for Trump if such a look good on paper, that assumes Trump is psychologically capable of letting go of the presidency for even a day. Doing so would be to acknowledge defeat in a way that filing bankruptcy as a private citizen did not. It would also be an admission that he needs the pardon. The very legal ambiguity of a self-pardon fudges that by the implication that his crimes were acts of state and so not really crimes at all, something that works better for his wounded psyche and just coincidentally offers a better story to his MAGA supporters.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Mike Pence seems to be among the least independent actors in politics. He is obtuse and ambitious, but he’s also water looking for a vessel.

      His great luck is that patrons like the DeVos family find him a useful retainer. Presumably, they admire his extreme fundamentalism, but as plutocrats, they would also find his obsequious dependence charming.

      • Fran of the North says:

        One of the worst features of relationships with significant deltas in power dynamics is what happens when the ‘innocent friendship’ morphs. The recent revelations of Giancarlo Granada re: his entanglements with Jerry and Becky Falwell reveals how difficult it can be to extract oneself from those types of relationships when they head south.

        Clearly Mike Pence has a much more solid power foundation, but he shouldn’t think that that makes him immune to the machinations of the moneyed elites like the DeVos family and those they run with.

        That way lies danger.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          Mike Pence is a dependent courtier whose purpose is to implement the “machinations of the moneyed elites.” A minor but graphic illustration is how he hands Donald Trump a bottle of water, with the same two hands that Trump needs.

          • FL Resister says:

            Your pithy assessments of Mike Pence in this thread define the essence of the vacuous man—it’s no small feat to capture nothing.

  3. Mitch Neher says:

    But . . . Trump would have to promise Pence that neither Trump nor Trump Junior, nor even Ivanka, will run for president in 2024 in exchange for a pardon from Pence when Pence takes Trump’s place as President soon.

    And . . .that would expose Pence to the same impeachment for “bribery” risk as would be thrown in Biden’s face if Biden swapped a pardon for Trump in exchange for Trump “vacating the premises” like any other squatter in America.

    Norton is right. Trump’s cards are junk. Call. His. Bluff.

    Wait a second. Trump could still incite violence and exploit that violence to pay off his debt to his real creditors–whoever they really are. What’s the poker analogy for that play??

    • Montana Voter says:

      I think the appropriate poker analogy is Wild Bull Hickock being shot in the back in Deadwood SD holding Aces and Eights. The dead man’s hand. None of these actors has the loyalty to Trump that he demands. It’s all about their own greed and survival.

    • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

      Agree: call Trump’s cards.
      But surely even Pence has enough brains to ignore any ‘promise’ ever given by any Trump with a first name other than ‘Mary’.

      • Mitch Neher says:

        That’s probably because Trump has just enough brains left to avoid putting his promises to Pence in writing and signing them.

        [Damned brains. I can’t remember the lyrics to “If I only had a brain.” There’s a line or two that apply in this context.]

        [Wait a second. I hear Pence singing . . . “If I were the king of the forest . . . . ” Damned brains.]

  4. joel fisher says:

    If given the opportunity to pardon Trump, Pence must do it or face the terrible consequence of being out of favor–heck, hated by–the Trump GOP. There’s no coming back from that. So POTUS could simply resign and, thus, force Pence’s hand. Remember, Trump only has to give up power for the length of time necessary for Pence to sign his name. But, maybe, Pence would like to be President longer than 10 minutes and knows Trump’s resignation is the only way he ever will be. Certainly, there will be a negotiation: “How long does Pence need to be President to agree to grant the pardon?”

    • Montana Voter says:

      It depends on whether Pence understands that Trump is the scorpion on his back. Obviously Trump’s loyally only goes one way. I think Pence is enough of a charlatan to know there will be no divine intervention to save him. He’ll take the Falwell route, take the money and Ditch Mother for a younger model.

    • BobCon says:

      I think MW’s analysis that the warlords are backing out of the coalition is correct. I think the notion of a Trump GOP is going to be a lot like the Reagan legacy — something multiple people claim but nobody owns.

      As a result, there won’t be a unified front demanding a pardon. It may still be politically expedient for Pence to make a play for a faction that wants a pardon, but the fracturing of power centers, including DeVos, makes a pardon a lot less useful.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        I don’t think Trump trusts anyone enough to leave office, even for half an hour, and rely on a promised pardon. Nor do I think he could resign. It would tarnish his contradictory invincible-victim image, which he will rely on to grift for a few more years.

        • joel fisher says:

          I would rejoice at such an epic double cross, but no way would Pence do it. It would be the end of Pence and for what? The transaction is more likely to be the pardon for Trump’s promise–quickly forgotten–to support Pence in as the future leader of the disgusting GOP base.

    • Rwood says:

      While I certainly see several possible scenarios, I don’t feel Pence has much say in any of them. Trump/Pence is a package deal now, forever tied together. The Money will view that as a resource that has been tapped out and look for future investments. Pompeo. DeSantis. Cotton.

      Short answer: Pence will do whatever he is told to do.

    • SAO says:

      Pence can not pardon Trump by saying to the MAGA-hatters that Trump is innocent of all crimes, just as Trump says. He pretends to be a man of principle.

      On the other hand, if he pardons Trump, he has to list the criminal acts he’s pardoning Trump for. This makes him someone complicit. However, if Pence refuses to pardon and Trump tweets about it, Trump is going to look bad, because Trump will probably have to list what he wants to be pardoned for. Of course, Trump can say all the accusations were bunk AND he wants a pardon, but that’s not going to fly with too many people.

      In the aftermath of the Trump era, there aren’t a hell of a lot of GOPers who have maintained both their name recognition and their reputations. There’s a decent chance that Trump goes down in flames. Whether he’s prosecuted or not, there will be a steady drip of bad stories because the Biden Admin has no reason to keep things secret.

      If so, who will be ready for 2024, when there’s a good chance it’s Kamala Harris on the Dem ticket? The same old Cruz, Rubio and Romney that voters have rejected before? Two sons of immigrants and a Mormon to capture the Evangelical vote? Nikki Haley, another Indian-American woman? Frankly, given a Pence-Harris race, I’d bet on the white guy over the non-white woman. All Pence has to do is what he’s done fairly successfully so far, avoid getting tarred with the Trump mud.

      • bmaz says:

        This is not correct. The pardon can simply read “…pardon for any and all offenses committed against the United States”.

        • YinzerInExile says:

          Precisely correct. The Ford pardon of Nixon was even a bit more general than that, since it included a conditional statement: “. . . for all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed or may have committed or taken part in . . . .”

      • BraveNewWorld says:

        Pence has to know Trump good enough to know Trump isn’t a doing time kind of a guy. He will also know that Trump is loyal to no one. That may incentivize Pence to do a pardon knowing that if the Feds start turning the screws on Trump he will sell out every one he has ever met to save his hide. I don’t want to speak out of turn but it is even possible that Trump might fib or spin his story to sexy it up to get a better deal. Stories implicating a former VP are the kind of thing a prosecutor would want to hear. A pardon makes much of that go away.

        I just don’t think Trump will hand over power until the very last minute. Watch for his family traveling out of country in January. I wouldn’t be even a little bit surprised to see them make Aliyah.

        • Tom Edelson says:

          This, at least in general. That is, I share the hunch that DJT will end up spending his post-presidency outside the United States.

          Israel, specifically? It’s possible. Personally, though, my two bits are on Panama.

    • cavenewt says:

      One suggestion I’ve seen is for Trump to feign some sort of illness (Covid relapse perhaps?) and do a temporary 25th amendment thing, like Bush did in 2002 when he underwent a colonoscopy. All of this so that Pence could pardon him while he’s indisposed.

      • Eureka says:

        That’s precisely what I thought Mark Meadows was trying to set up when he was blabbering (contra all Trump doc PR) how very, very sick Trump was. I’d buy some faction suggesting similar now — and this would be a cheap way to test Pence — even if Trump would rather rely on whatever mysteries OLC has cooked up regarding a self-pardon. Heck, a colonoscopy would be an easier play — routine procedure for which he’s in the due* window — but I doubt he’d be into people knowing he’s having one. An oral endoscopy (for ‘reasons’) might work.

        What other ‘cleaner’ procedures would fit? Does Trump still have his third molars, lol?

        *In 2018, Dr. Feelgood referenced his 2013 procedure. For his 2019 physical, I see no reference to the (past) procedure at all.

        This is pretty funny (in that familiar way); wonder what prompts him to rip Snowden (in the way he does) in between sharing an Eisenhower quote and praising Jeter:

        Here’s What Donald Trump Tweeted The Day Of His Colonoscopy

        Do not view any failure as the end. Learn your lessons quickly, then move on. Do not dwell on failure. Start thinking big again.
        Wed Jul 10 20:52:01 UTC+0000 2013
        Donald J. Trump

        Ivanka couldn’t have said it better.

    • Mitch Neher says:

      What’s the date on that announcement??

      [I know I’m supposed to do my own homework. But there’s no real harm in asking.]

    • ducktree says:

      What’s the over-under on the unanimous selection of the journalistic portrait of a healthcare worker in full PPE facing the camera?

      The Every(wo)man of the ages.

      • Mitch Neher says:

        Next year looks good for “The Healthcare Worker” as Person of the Year.

        Apparently TIME has already announced “The Karen” as Person of the Year for 2020.

  5. Woodspaths says:

    A den of vipers no doubt. You raised some interesting points. Ones I’m sure trump is stewing over. His entire 4 years has been an effort to get the RNC into an iron grip. He knows he lost the election. He knew he was going to lose it but worked hard bc there was a ‘non-zero’ chance of success. The entire ‘rigged election’ is a play to remain in power over the RNC – his source of power and cash cow and to assuage his faulty psyche from his personality disorder.

    I think he pardons himself.

  6. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Exceptional bit of context unavailable from the MSM. Many thanks.
    As you say, in a toss up between a departing, endangered Trump and a powerhouse like the DeVos family, there seems little doubt which way Mike Pence would go.

    I think of people like the DeVoses as patrons, with Pence as courtier. He silently does their bidding, but the power is theirs. Trump, like Pence, is a useful tool for plutocrats like the DeVoses, except he’s far less controllable and crudely – rather than overtly – has his hands and other body parts in the pockets of those he wants to steal from. That makes grift at the scale the Devoses find useful harder to pull off. Even then, Trump and the GOP have pulled off big wins for their class, via his tax bills and the unmonitored largesse – supposedly related to Covid relief – that once spilled from the USG.

    When Trump goes, the party we’ve seen over the last four years will remain the same. It’s likely to be more extreme and dependent on Big Lies, demagoguery, victimhood, and the threat of violence.

  7. Ken Muldrew says:

    Still, unlike Pompeo, Pence is not inextricably linked to Trump’s crimes.

    It defies belief to think that Trump wouldn’t have set up Pence to make him complicit on some of the crimes at an early stage. Much as Pence may have tried to remain ignorant enough to claim plausible deniability, I doubt Trump would have kept him for more than a month without the assurance of mutually assured destruction. If Trump has any art in how he arranges business deals, that’s it.

  8. Terrapin says:

    With all due respect, Pence has every political incentive to participate in a last-minute scheme to pardon Trump for his federal crimes. If he ever hopes to get a GOP presidential nomination, whether it be in 2024, 2028, or whenever, if he doesn’t pardon Trump the MAGA faction of the GOP would never forgive him and he would be forever tainted in their eyes if this is what DJT demanded that he do.

    • Mitch Neher says:

      But . . . Trump has already declared that he has the power to pardon himself if, or whenever, he finally convinces himself that he’s done something wrong.

      Trump’s worshippers probably expect Trump to keep that promise first and foremost in keeping with the principle of “I alone can fix it.” (See also: If you want something done right, do it yourself.)

      Just imagine the frothy salivation over the first ever self-pardoned president running for president again just four years or so after he had finally accepted the pardon he had already granted himself the day before he announced that he had the power to do so sometime back in May of 2018, IIRC.

    • Montana Voter says:

      Pence is Dan Quayle. He will only be a footnote in history. But the question remains why did Manafort trick Trump into selecting him? Was it an entree to the DeVos money? Or was it a demand from Erik Prince for an “inside man” to keep an eye on Trump? We will all be amazed when and if the truth of this travesty comes out.

      • Ginevra diBenci says:

        I hope Pence one day displays the degree of self-awareness and wit that Dan Quayle has done since becoming VP emeritus. Both are classic Indiana GOP hacks, but remember that Quayle was by those standards a much more successful one. Pence had nothing to sell but his evangelical street cred and his soul, but he shopped around for high bids: not just the DeVoses but the Kochs too. He will leave office with unique vulnerabilities and no real base of his own. Ripe for the picking by whomever.

        • ducktree says:

          GdB ~ change one letter in that last word wherein the “m” becomes “r” … it’s Pen(an)ce in portmanteau word.

  9. Rugger9 says:

    Pence was involved in some of the stuff for the 2016 transition not yet revealed (remember Flynn was fired for lying to Pence, officially, before DJT needed Flynn for other projects), and he definitely owns COVID. Plus, Pence is personally responsible for Betsy DeVos at Education. That’s enough to boot him out.

    As for what DJT could use for leverage on Pence after resigning, that is a tougher thing to figure out without getting into the weeds as EW does. Pence is a political remora like Lindsey, but he also doesn’t have many avenues of authority that would leave a public trail (DeVos being the exception that proves the rule) so anything scandalous would be buried at some depth already. Pence’s outward persona of militant fundamentalism as far as I know has not been contradicted like Falwell Jr’s escapades blew JFJ’s cover. I don’t think Pence is a money guy either or grifted as much as Pompeo has (West Point must be so proud he graduated top of his class, just sayin’) or it hasn’t made it to the press.

    All of this tells me that if Pence becomes POTUS-for-a-Day, I do not see any way for DJT to ensure he gets his pardon 100%. And that’s why I think DJT doesn’t resign and tries to pardon himself.

  10. Molly Pitcher says:

    I don’t think Trump wants to be president a second time, any more than he really wanted to be President a first time. I think he wants to RUN for President a second time because that lets him keep the grift going. He has to see the writing on the wall that Fox (Rupert Murdoch) has abandoned him, that the DeVoses have now abandoned him, and we don’t know who else hasn’t publicly expressed fealty, or at least support (as in checks to the ‘defense fund’) when he has called to shake them down.

    I just don’t see him resigning. That is an admission of defeat that I cannot see him capable of making. Noting how tickled he has been to have the power to pardon random people, I think he will pardon himself. How powerful you must be to be able to wipe away any inconvenient fake thing you are being accused of by pardoning yourself. NO ONE else has that power. Gotta smoke’em if you got’em.

    • Pragmatic Progressive says:

      The Ford pardon for Nixon was very different, because Nixon was able to come to terms with the fact that he had lost the faith of his party. Nixon was also in his second term and therefore could never mount another campaign for President.

      Trump on the other hand, NEEDS to maintain control over the GOP after he leaves office to avoid total financial collapse and humiliation.

      The problem with a self-pardon is that it would require him to identify the conduct he sought to pardon. And, if one thing is clear, this man simply cannot admit to anything he does wrong. Don’t forget- this is a man who has not waivered from describing the ham handed attempted conspiracy he was unable to consumate with Ukraine as a “perfect phone call.” This same man reportedly also sincerely told people he crushed the interview with Axios after he sat down with Jonathan Swan and self-owned himself for the better part of an hour.

      He thinks everything he does is perfect and amazing. To quote him directly: “Person. Woman. Man. Camera. TV. If you get it in order, you get extra points. They said nobody gets it in order. It’s actually not that easy, but for me it was easy.” In **his head** there’s probably nothing to pardon **himself** for.

      But, don’t be surprised if he pardons the whole Trump Organization. With the current composition of SCOTUS, such a move might actually work, too!

      • Molly Pitcher says:

        According to bmaz, up stream (see above) the things for which someone is pardoned do not have to be delineated. He can simply pardon himself from birth to present day.

        • bmaz says:

          Molly, that is true as to pardons generally. Whether it applies to a President doing it for himself is a great unknown.

          • Rugger9 says:

            One of the more interesting discussions has to use with the phrasing of the power to grant pardons. The opinion centered on the use of the word “grant” which in the US Constitution in every other place was a transaction term where some entity gives another entity the power to do something.

            Can DJT grant himself a pardon?

            • bmaz says:

              I honestly have no idea. To me, no. What SCOTUS would say, I also have no idea. It should not be so, but yet to be determined.

  11. foggycoast says:

    unless i’m mistaken if pence becomes president even for a short time he will get the presidential pension (200K+ per year ) plus secret service protection, health insurance, staff, office expenses… for life. that alone may be enough for him to do it.

  12. Atomic Shadow says:

    Text from Ford’s pardon of Nixon…
    “Now, Therefore, I, Gerald R. Ford, President of the United States, pursuant to the pardon power conferred upon me by Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution, have granted and by these presents do grant a full, free, and absolute pardon unto Richard Nixon for all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed or may have committed or taken part in during the period from January 20, 1969 through August 9, 1974.”

  13. sand says:

    “Now, Therefore, I, Donald J. Trump, President of the United States, pursuant to the pardon power conferred upon me by Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution, have granted and by these presents do grant a full, free, and absolute pardon unto all persons named hereunder for all offenses against the United States which they have committed or may have committed or taken part in during the period from June 14, 2015 through January 20, 2021.”

    [List of names to be raptured including Donald J. Trump, family, and campaign and administration personnel that have demonstrated sufficient loyalty to be included. Loyalty test results to be announced the morning of January 20, 2021. Those that are deemed sufficiently photogenic to have speaking roles on TrumpTV.]

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