What Can Be Pardoned?

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Some unexpected ins and outs of an executive power

The President’s power to pardon people accused or convicted of crimes is in the news like it hasn’t been since Clinton pardoned a number of dubious people on his last day in office, or maybe even since Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon. And it’s in the news for a good reason: Trump and his inner circle are under investigation for a truly stunning array of major crimes, ranging from accepting illegal foreign campaign contributions to actively conspiring with a foreign power to subvert elections, and just a few days ago, Trump made vividly clear that he would happily pardon anyone he saw as furthering his own cause.

What this means is that discussions of pardons aren’t just about legal theory: they’re about the practical ins-and-outs of criminal investigations, political lobbying, and just what a determined prosecutor can do to bring a corrupt politician to justice, when that politician seems to have unlimited power to stop him.

The answer may be, more than you expect — but not in the ways you expect it.

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