Trump’s Second Impeachment Has Already Had a Beneficial Effect

After Billy Barr spent eight months dedicating DOJ resources to supporting Sidney Powell’s conspiracy theories about Mike Flynn, Trump pardoned his short-lived National Security Advisor for everything associated with the Mueller investigation. Within weeks, Flynn called for martial law, a three-star General with an avid QAnon following inciting an insurrection.

After Billy Barr dismissed the seriousness of threats against Randy Credico and Amy Berman Jackson backed by Proud Boy associates of Roger Stone, Trump first ensured that Stone would do no prison time and then pardoned him for his cover-up of the Trump campaign’s efforts to optimize the release of stolen John Podesta files. While Roger Stone claims to have had no role, the key organization behind the riot, Stop the Steal, adopted the name and the methods he used in 2016. And thus far five members of the Proud Boys have been arrested in association with the coup attempt.

It seems that Trump’s belief in his own invincibility — one he got, in significant part, by successfully obstructing the Mueller investigation by buying silence with promised pardons, then hiring an Attorney General who would and did repeatedly protect him from consequences — not only led him to believe he could incite a riot, but led key bridges between him and the foot soldiers in this coup attempt to believe they had impunity too.

But according to stories in virtually all major outlets (here’s the CNN version), in the wake of both the coup attempt and impeachment for it, Trump has backed off plans to complete that act of impunity by pardoning his spawn and himself.

Initially, two major batches had been ready to roll out, one at the end of last week and one on Tuesday. Now, officials expect the last batch to be the only one — unless Trump decides at the last minute to grant pardons to controversial allies, members of his family or himself.


The January 6 riots that led to Trump’s second impeachment have complicated his desire to pardon himself, his kids and personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. At this point, aides do not think he will do so, but caution only Trump knows what he will do with his last bit of presidential power before he is officially out of office at noon on January 20.

After the riots, advisers encouraged Trump to forgo a self-pardon because it would appear like he was guilty of something, according to one person familiar with the conversations. Several of Trump’s closest advisers have also urged him not to grant clemency to anyone involved in the siege on the US Capitol, despite Trump’s initial stance that those involved had done nothing wrong.

I predicted this would happen here.

To be clear, I don’t think Trump’s moderated plans come from any remorse or sense of contrition. Rather, after the riot Pat Cipollone apparently refused to be a part of such plans anymore (though I also think the Stone and Paul Manafort pardons were far more modest than they might have been). Lindsey Graham’s efforts to minimize the impeachment trial in the Senate also helped, as Lindsey knows any attempt to prevent conviction in the Senate is premised on Trump avoiding any further abuse.

None of this changes the fact that Trump has abused the pardon power far more than any president before him. Nor will it prevent a great many other abusive pardons today.

But to restore legitimacy and belief in the rule of law, the story of Trump’s crimes needs to be told, and told in a way that makes the damage he caused and the betrayal of his supporters clear. If, indeed, Trump decides not to pardon his lawyer, his spawn, and himself, it will be one important step in that process.

Update: This CNN story reports on precisely this phenomenon.

The decision to not pardon any Republican lawmakers or his family members was a last minute one. After initially defending the idea that he may pardon himself or his family members out of concern they would be targeted once he’s out of office, Trump decided Saturday night that he would not pardon anyone in his family or himself.

Trump agreed with the attorneys and other advisers that doing so would increase the appearance of guilt and could make them more vulnerable, but was disappointed at the outcome, according to people familiar with the matter.

Trump, according to people he’d spoken to, appeared more taken with the message of unchecked power it might send to his naysayers than actual protection from liability. His pardon power was among his favorite perks of the job.

The newfound concerns about actually exercising this favorite perk of the job extends to members of Congress worried about their own legal exposure and Ed Snowden and Julian Assange.

Several Republican lawmakers who are alleged to have been involved in the rally that preceded the deadly riot on the US Capitol have sought clemency from Trump before he leaves office, but after meeting with his legal advisers for several hours on Saturday, the President decided he would not grant them, according to two people familiar with his plans.


Trump is also not expected to pardon Edward Snowden or Julian Assange, whose roles in revealing US secrets infuriated official Washington.

While he had once entertained the idea, Trump decided against it because he did not want to anger Senate Republicans who will soon determine whether he’s convicted during his Senate trial. Multiple GOP lawmakers had sent messages through aides that they felt strongly about not granting clemency to Assange or Snowden.

67 replies
  1. dannyboy says:

    “But to restore legitimacy and belief in the rule of law, the story of Trump’s crimes needs to be told, and told in a way that makes the damage he caused and the betrayal of his supporters clear”

    A few of his supporters would see his betrayal if the story of Trump’s crimes were to be revealed…
    …but the great majority will remain onboard. Mostly, Trumps crimes allowed and encouraged his followers to act out their basest thoughts and desires. That won’t go away. It is who they are.

    • emptywheel says:

      I don’t know. If Bannon indeed does not get a pardon, then his role in bilking a bunch of true believers will become more public.

      • dannyboy says:

        Yes, I do agree that these true believers will find out new information and that their “true beliefs” were not true.

        My point is that they will react by becoming angrier still.. Resentment, anger, violence will get fueled by these reveals. Remorse, rehabilitation, and reenterring are not possible.

        Reveal, yes. But put in a strong State to reestablish limits and laws.

        • Ravenclaw says:

          If by “a strong State to reestablish limits and laws” you mean a much more controlling, authoritarian, punitive government apparatus, then why bother? Just let the other side win; it’s what they want in the first place. And before long they would figure out how to seize control of your “strong State” (just once will do!) and we’d have done most of the work for them. The police and intelligence structures we have are capable of handling extremist groups as long as they work harder to weed out sympathizers in their own ranks (and yes, implicit biases).

              • dannyboy says:

                1) Depoliticize the Justice Department and 2) Root out corruption in the courts and law enforcement for starters.
                As an example, I read WaPo article this morning where “House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving balked when the chief of the Capitol Police suggested activating the National Guard…Irving responded that he was concerned about the “optics” of such a move.”

                What do OPTICS have to do with enforcement? Why is law enforcement optical?

                • Norskeflamthrower says:

                  “What do optics have to do with (law) enforcement?”

                  Everything! As long as middle class white folk are not threatened, authoritarian law enforcement can get away with anything except calling out armed troops on white middle class patriots. The poor and people of color on the other hand…well, that’s the way our entire social/political structure is built and it’s NOT gunna change by simply posting pictures of neo-Nazi terrorists waving zip ties and rope nooses and tuggin’ on our forelocks and scratchin’ our privates. There hafta be hundreds of felonies charged and at least two sitting senators and 10 or 12 congress critters who should be expelled and charged.

      • joel fisher says:

        Any money Bannon stole will reduce the ability of the base to travel to DC to riot. I wish he had stolen more.

      • BobCon says:

        Stone’s involvement with criminal right wing activities may well continue. Without the opportunity for a second pardon, his incentive for candor about Trump may increase a lot.

      • Krisy Gosney says:

        I agree that’s the way his followers will come around; when they realize they were used by the ‘fat cats.’ Most every middle income and below person grasps the idea of the ‘little guy’ toiling away, taking the risks and staying poor while the ‘fat cats’ stay above it all and keep getting richer.

        • cavenewt says:

          I agree that’s the way his followers will come around; when they realize they were used by the ‘fat cats.’ Most every middle income and below person grasps the idea of the ‘little guy’ toiling away, taking the risks and staying poor while the ‘fat cats’ stay above it all and keep getting richer.

          I think the number of true believers that come around is going to be statistically insignificant. If you spend *any* amount of time scrolling through right-wing commenters, it’s obvious that they are impervious to truth.

          It took a few years, but many of the initial resistors actually came around to liking Obamacare, once they saw that it actually improved their lives*. I believe the history of Medicare is similar. That may be about the only thing Democrats can do to change hearts and minds — make lives better, don’t just talk about it. The point is made in this excellent article.

          * Yes, Obamacare wasn’t perfect, even in its original incarnation, and then it suffered a thousand Republican-inflicted cuts. But, as a self-employed person, it made a huge difference for me.

          • Doctor My Eyes says:

            “That may be about the only thing Democrats can do to change hearts and minds — make lives better, don’t just talk about it.”

            I believe this has been true all along–that the only effective things Democrats can do is represent their constituents. Democratic polices are by and large the more popular policies. In even their half-ass war-appeasing incarnations, Democrats do make lives better for people. I believe this is why Republicans are committed to a strategy of not allowing Democrats to govern. I firmly believe this to be a Republican goal at both the state and federal level, being inflicted on a scorched earth level. I believe this is why so much effort was made to stop the ACA from ever being well implemented. That and simple meanness. Republicans know they are a minority party whose actual policies are counter to what the majority wants. They do not want people to learn what Democratic governance looks like.

            • Dave_MB says:

              I don’t see why they don’t stay conservative, but just be a little less dick-ish.

              I know. They have no principles other than give money to the military complex and cutting taxes for the top .01%, but still.

  2. Sonso says:

    As a matter of strategy and/or efficacy, I would like to know people’s thoughts on whether the Senate trial should be ‘immediate’ (and short), or delayed until past the first 100-day milestone?

    • Zeke says:

      Unless they are confident that they already have collected all of the evidence they are going to get, then wait. I think it also depends on who gets a pardon today, which might suggest where else to look.

    • Tom Benjamin says:

      Since Trump is out of office, I believe Schumer can refer the impeachment to a committee charged with investigating the charges and then reporting out. If that is so, the committee can call witnesses and deliver a public reckoning about what happened. The committee’s work would attract too much attention from the Biden agenda, but the rest of the Senate can attend to normal business until all the evidence is ready to present at trial.

      In other words, Schumer should control when the trial will begin.

      • bmaz says:

        Yes, that is basically right. The committee takes the evidence and has hearing, such as it may be, and then produces a comprehensive report that is issued to the full body and then given a vote on the full floor.

  3. madwand says:

    At this time he’s walking out without pardoning himself or his family. Rachel Maddow has been advocating all week that the best he can do is resign and get a pardon from Pence, anything short of that keeps him in some kind of legal jeopardy, ie a self pardon would be challenged in the courts. I have been wrong on predictions before but if Trump wants to keep his name in the limelight he self pardons and pursues it to the Supreme Court if he has to. With their recent rulings against his court cases, ie the Texas, it is unclear if they would continue to disavow Trump. If he walks out without anything then martyrdom might be the goal. He’ll maintain he did nothing wrong and is being persecuted for it, keeps the base on his side and attuned to “the plan”.

    • Ginevra diBenci says:

      OTOH, that same court voted 6-3 to step aside when Trump/Barr rushed the last three federal executions through.

  4. Jenny says:

    Billy Barr interview.

    ITV New on Twitter: 4:19 PM · Jan 18, 2021
    “That was the thing that precipitated the riots on the Hill”

    Former attorney general Bill Barr tells @RohitKachrooITV that questioning the legitimacy of the US presidential election ‘precipitated’ the Jan 6 US Capitol riots

    And on same link

    “When I first came in, one of the things I was concerned about was the emergence of violence in the political process”

    • Chris.EL says:

      I wish someone would explain the curious political ritual of lighting up marijuana joints in the Halls of Congress.

      Also decorating the halls with smears of poop.

      NICE. (P.S. jerks)

      You have not lived until you’ve seen+heard a parrot sing Led Zeppelin. Total belly laff material.

      Happy Day Before Inauguration Day!

      • gmoke says:

        The patriotic thing to do is to fire up a blunt on the roof of the White House with Willie Nelson. Always has been, always will be. Anything else is tantamount to treason.

  5. Joseph Andrews says:

    As a resident of a blue university town in the middle of a very red region (but within a blue state), the outcome (of the second impeachment trial and all that goes with it, as described here at emptywheel) that I am most interested in is one that (as a previous poster here noted) exposes the singular awfulness of our soon-to-be-former president to as many people as possible, in the hope that at least a few of my neighbors will begin the process of re-entering a world based on reality, truth and facts.

    Am I tilting at windmills?

    • John B. says:

      I wonder if we live in the same town…your description fits my town exactly. I don’t believe these folks are capable of changing their views with their news and information coming from right wing sources like Fox, OAN, Newsmax and the shock jocks like Rushbo. They are corrupted. Our Congressman is an individual who voted to not confirm the EC votes for Joe and Kamala and he will suffer no consequences from his constituents for that action. And he never visits the blue university town.

    • Chris.EL says:

      Curious to know the town, etc. Proper “expert” opinion cannot be rendered without further information. *Kidding*

      A while back I was dallying, waiting for a to-go burger; discovered restaurant had only Fox News on the TV. I’d like to watch that as much as have a shouting match with a Covid- positive jerk. So I waited sans TV propaganda channel. Dawned on me that was the predominant political view of the management; so scratched them off take out list. Haven’t been back…

      Fox is Ff-ing craaazy.

      • cavenewt says:

        Dawned on me that was the predominant political view of the management

        It’s just as likely to be what the management perceives is the predominant political view of their customers. It’s probably also a positive feedback loop. If they play Fox all the time they may reduce their lefty customers, as happened with you; if they tend to have MSNBC on, probably they’ll lose some of their right wing customers.

        I live in a small town where we don’t have that many business options. I like to subvert the status quo by switching the TV from Fox to MSNBC.

  6. harpie says:

    Stone was calling for “martial law”, too, [and more] in mid September.

    Roger Stone calls for Trump to seize total power if he loses the election
    Stone also said federal authorities should seize all Nevada ballots, federal agents and GOP state officials should “physically” block voting, that Trump should nationalize police forces, and that Trump should order widespread arrests
    09/11/20 2:11 PM

    […] Stone also urged Trump to consider declaring “martial law” or invoking the Insurrection Act and then using his powers to arrest Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Apple CEO Tim Cook, “the Clintons” and “anybody else who can be proven to be involved in illegal activity.” […]

  7. Peterr says:

    “Within weeks, Flynn called for martial law, a three-star General with an avid QAnon following inciting an insurrection.”

    IANAL, let alone a military lawyer, but it is my understanding that retired General officers remain subject to a lot of military regulations even in retirement. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to say that a 3 star inciting an insurrection has gotten folks at the DOD to review those regulations as they apply to Flynn, and strongly suspect that Flynn may face some rather pointed questioning sometime after noon tomorrow.

    • greengiant says:

      Steve Vladeck is an expert on this considering he is defending two or three retired military from legal action and pension claw back. Steve also laid out how the post election scenarios before November and is commenting on impeachment now.
      I think bmaz and Vladeck are saying the same things here. It would take a law change.
      Voices like Steve’s who said the fact based justice system and rule of law mechanics of the electoral college etc was going to work gave me some peace of mind.

        • Chris.EL says:

          Don’t know if this was mentioned (directly) so here is a bit…
          From Twitter:

          “Steve Vladeck Retweeted
          Steve Vladeck
          1. In honor of Trump’s last full day in office, and what may end up being the big story of the day, here’s a quick #thread on the President’s pardon power — and answers to some of the questions about it that may come up today:”
          @steve_vladeck on Twitter will have active links…

        • Chris.EL says:

          not trying to outshine anyone — never heard of this before!!!
          From Twitter:
          “Lawrence O’Donnell
          Don’t trust the list.

          Trump doesn’t have to reveal the names of anyone he pardons.

          Trump can issue SECRET PARDONS.

          Trump can pardon himself & his family and keep that secret until they are charged with federal crimes.”

            • Stacey says:

              “Manifold problems” not withstanding–that ain’t Trump’s problem in the next few weeks. Appearing that he has not granted certain pardons is literally ALL he needs to care about right now. If he’s been told that his trial in the Senate would be affected by whether or not he sticks ANOTHER finger in the eye of democracy on the way out the door AND he’s been told he can do so secretly? I’d absolutely bet that he would do that. Further, if he’s been told, as I’ve heard the argument, that granting himself a pardon would essentially DARE the next DOJ to come after him, then doing so secretly gives him the best of both worlds: no dare and the POTENTIAL for protection should they come any way. Whether the protection of a self pardon is reality based, is/would NOT be his concern. He bets on illusion, running out the clock, presenting a high enough wall others wouldn’t want to climb, and head fakes. I’d say under the circumstances as we understand them currently, the chances are extremely HIGH that he’s made the calculation to do many secret pardons and to have insiders leak that he’s not granting those pardons. If he thinks it helps in the near term senate trial and may or may not help him later, that’s all he’s looking for at this point.

              No body KNOWS until reality gets tested later by an attempt at his prosecution, but I think this is a strong bet if any observation of Trump means anything over the last 4 years, let alone his past corrupt behavior for his whole adult life!

  8. John L says:

    I won’t replay the back and forth from BM to myself regarding our respective opinions about pardons. I’m of the opinion that a self-pardon really doesn’t matter.

    As sad as I am to say it, there aren’t more than 11 of 12 people that could ever agree about anything concerning Trump. And it won’t matter if those 12 folks are in Walters OK or San Francisco CA. There’s an infection that’s gone to deep in psyche of too many people. And I imagine that would be true in any lawsuit or criminal proceeding.

    There’s that. And I hope I’m wrong.

    So far as everyone else around him, I’d say they’re not going to be so lucky and better hope that they saved their “get of jail cards”. So if Trump’s fear for self preservation has shortened his pardon list, that’s good news.

  9. Savage Librarian says:

    Lots to digest in the following article, but here is just some of it (although my recollection of the Stop the Steal campaign began at least a couple of years earlier. I definitely could be wrong, though.)

    “How two friends’ farcical, failed schemes ended with the biggest fail of all: Stop the Steal”

    “Ali Alexander’s seven-year friendship with aspiring actor Daniel Bostic failed upward, all the way to the Capitol” – Salon – Roger Sollenberger, 1/19/21
    “Politico reported in 2018 that a PAC advised by Akbar had accepted $60,000 from Mercer just before the 2016 presidential election. After Trump’s victory, Akbar popped up again amid the Unite the Right controversy, and in 2018 tried to help kickstart a Trump-centric alternative to the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) called the American Priority Conference, which collapsed in short order.”

    “After that defeat, Alexander (having dumped his original surname at some point) teamed up with longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone, who first conceived of the Stop the Steal movement — which, believe it or not, did not originate with the 2020 election. The name and the “movement” began with the 2018 midterms, and specifically with the Florida U.S. Senate campaign in which then-Gov. Rick Scott narrowly defeated incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson. That was when Roger Stone launched the group as a kind of tribute or coda to his infamous “Brooks Brothers riot” during the Florida recount of 2000.”

    “Alexander signed on to work for the “Stop the Steal” campaign, which was aimed at locking down Scott’s victory over Nelson. In a Periscope video, as reported in Right Wing Watch,
    Alexander said he hoped to motivate not just Republicans, but QAnon followers, Democrats and “homeless people in all the adjacent counties” to keep an eye on the vote count in Broward County.”

    “Ali Alexander is a noxious political activist who often animates extremist groups and individuals to fulfill his activism goals,” Jared Holt, journalist and expert in domestic extremism, told Salon. “Political groups and organizations that have turned to him for his work should be embarrassed and ashamed. The fact that he has a molecule of influence in GOP organizing is a damning indictment of the priorities of pro-Trump politics.”

  10. e.a.f. says:

    would agree the second impeachment has had a favourable effect because
    1. it was swift. almost immediate, given how governments aren’t always fast.
    2. Republicans voted for the impeachment.
    3. What happened was all on film and it scared a lot of people in the U.S.A.

    As more information comes out, with film to follow, about what happened 6 Jan. more people will become disgusted with what happened. For many a line had been crossed, even amongst Trump supporters. Those insurgents meant to physically harm Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi and most likely any one else they could get their hands on. The murdered a cop. Its a message most likely not lost on a lot of cops–they will use you and then murder you.

    The impeachment being swift, sent a message to Trump, in my opinion, if he pardoned too many of “his” there could be a lot of blow back, something he won’t want. there is also the no small matter of, if he pardoned his family, who know a lot about what goes on, they would have had to testify.

    Part of the problem is the American political system has too many political appointees. their first alligence is to the person who appointed them, not to their country. Prior to Trump’s time in office, as a Canadian, I wasn’t aware how deep the political appointments go in the federal government. Personally I think its dangerous. A federal work force, from the Deputy Ministers on down need to be part of a professional work force, not just any idiot who attracts the attention of the President or Gov. Seeing the toilet sales man be appointed was way beyond anything I could have expected. It was like, how the hell did that happen. Now of course it is doubtful the system will change, but some changes might help the American government remain a tad more stable than it has been for the past 4 years.

    Watched Biden this morning and am looking forward to the swearing in of Biden/Harris tomorrow. Their first orders of business are good. Makes me feel a whole lot more comfortable. (well if they had followed some of the advise regarding marshal law, etc. Canada would have expected a lot of refugees, who would most likely not have been turned away.)

  11. Badger Robert says:

    Senator Schumer stated there is going to be a trial, followed by a vote.
    Senator McConnell has made the issue of incitement difficult to contest.
    How does the trial tell the story?
    Would the elements include the history of mob violence in the US? Would one include experts on the psychology of mobs?
    Are facts about who got the permits and who financed the travel to Washington, D.C. important?
    If there are going to witnesses, what’s the best way to use the time?

    • bmaz says:

      If true, this is beyond asinine by Schumer. There should be no “trial”. Once Trump is no longer a sitting President, the matter should be referred to a designated committee of the Senate pursuant to Senate Rule XIV of the Senate Impeachment Rules, and then a report submitted to the full floor for a vote thereon. Let’s not be stupid with so much, including Biden nominations, to deal with in the first instance.

      • timbo says:

        Hmm… yeah, leaving it hanging in committee is an interesting tactic… sort of a Sword of Damocles when it comes to Trumpists who claim to actually be supporters of the Constitution itself…

        • bmaz says:

          It would not hang in a committee, it would literally tried there and a comprehensive report produced for the full floor to vote on it. No full Senate trial.

          • timbo says:

            Yeah, but they could give it a really low priority, especially initially, given all the other stuff the Senate will being asked to ratify.

            • bmaz says:

              No, you either do it, or you don’t. It has nothing to do with the rest of the Senate’s work, it is one committee.

  12. Chris.EL says:

    A little off-topic distraction okay?

    Saw this request for help on popehat: [link]

    The letter sounds preposterous; (Jasmine Crowe’s Twitter photo shows she is Black – request for help is for her grandmother).

    Refrigerator is dirty?? Apartment smells?? Quarterly inspections??

    What the Fff?

    Plus is rental agreement month to month or a lease? No opportunity for tenant to cure?

    Fishy, fishy, fishy!!

    • bmaz says:

      If that was a Popehat signal by Ken, let’s do help. I have done so here before from his call. It is a good thing.

      • Chris.EL says:

        I’m not a lawyer, but I’ve done some “landlording.”

        Inspecting an apt. every three months seems like harassment.

        Also sometimes if a sink or bathtub isn’t used much, the water trap dries out and sewer gases can come into living space — could be plumbing problem — could be a cruel fiction…

    • Eureka says:

      From the neat, orderly pix it looks like Jasmine’s grandmother should be in charge of the cleaning chez nous.

      But also they are examining her *windowsills* (and found _one_ to be unacceptable)?

      I hope she’s alright in any case, but if this was an instance of an elder unable to keep up who’s since gotten help, the first call should have been to family and barring that, adult protective services — not an eviction notice. That alone says a lot about motives.

    • cavenewt says:

      Going into an 82-year-old lady’s apartment every three months, during the pandemic lockdowns?

      It certainly sounds like harassment.

  13. Spencer Dawkins says:

    It’s hard to keep up with four years of daily insanity, but ISTM that he’s pardoned (or something similar, like commuting sentences for) Manafort, Flynn, Bannon, and Stone, who were all involved in the 2016 campaign, which Trump won in the electoral college (ignoring Russia, Comey, Wikileaks, and everything else that Trump ignores as factors in his own mind).

    (warning, amateur psychologist practicing on the Internet)

    If we’ve learned anything, it’s that the number of people Trump can trust at one time is small and static over time. These pardons honestly feel like he’s “getting the band back together” for 2024. There are a lot of Trump loyalists who would love to receive pardons, but since everything is transactional and Trump’s loyalty isn’t reciprocal, I’m thinking that “can this person help me win in 2024, like they did in 2016?” has been a significant factor in his thinking. So, “protect everyone who helped in my successful campaign in 2016, and ditch the losers who couldn’t deliver in the 2020 election that was stolen from me”.

    If feral self-protection can be defined as “thinking”, you know …

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