Trump’s allies are raking in the big bucks—or trying to—by attaching a dollar amount to presidential pardons.
According to a New York Times report, an associate of Rudy Giuliani’s told an ex-CIA officer serving time for leaking classified information that Giuliani could secure a pardon for him if he paid $2 million. This was not the first time the convicted officer, John Kiriakou, was the subject of these sorts of deals: Earlier, a former top Trump adviser received $50,000 to get the president to pardon Kiriakou, and was promised an additional $50,000 if it was granted.
But this time someone privy to the dealmaking became worried that Giuliani was illegally selling pardons—which is sure does seem like he was!—and notified the FBI. (Giuliani has denied this version of events.)
Unsurprisingly perhaps, Giuliani wasn’t the only Trump minion to allegedly attempt this scheme. Brett Tolman, a lobbyist advising the White House on prospective pardons, and John Dowd, a former personal lawyer to Trump, have both collected tens of thousands of dollars apiece from those hoping to obtain presidential pardons. Tolman advised people seeking clemency for a former Arkansas senator’s son, as well as Ross Ulbricht, the founder of Silk Road, and a Manhattan socialite who was convicted of fraud. Dowd, meanwhile, doled out advice to a “wealthy felon” and several other potential clients.
The Times reports that the demand for these services—and the price tag associated with them—has only gone up since it became clear that Trump’s legal efforts to overturn the election results were doomed. (Which were in fact quite clear long ago, but I digress...)
While reading this piece, I thought, Surely someone must have thought to sell their influence over presidential pardons before? The answer is basically no. Like many, many other aspects of the Trump presidency, the peddling of pardons happens to be largely unprecedented, according to the outlet.
So far it seems like the most effective way to receive a pardon from Trump is to have committed some of the most morally reprehensible crimes. As Jezebel reporter Esther Wang wrote last month, the Trump ignored the cases of the 13 people on federal death row in favor of “a whole cast of Republican goons, fraudsters, former Trump campaign advisers, and Blackwater mercenaries who killed children while in Iraq ... who apparently deserved his sympathy.”
There’s no evidence that Trump himself has accepted any money in exchange for a pardon. But it has never been beneath Trump to try to use the presidency to personally enrich himself—why wouldn’t his acolytes try it, too?