DeSantis doesn’t rule out pardoning Trump, Jan. 6 defendants

DeSantis doesn’t rule out pardoning Trump, Jan. 6 defendants

Supporters of former US President Donald Trump gather in front of the Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Probal Rashid | Light Rocket | Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday he would make it a “first-day” priority as president to pardon people deemed victims of “political attacks,” hinting that former President Donald Trump could be part of this group.

DeSantis, Trump’s biggest rival in the 2024 Republican presidential primary, was asked on a conservative talk show if he would consider pardoning the former president if he were charged with federal crimes. The Justice Department is conducting multiple criminal investigations into Trump.

The governor was also asked if he thought the next Republican president should consider pardoning defendants charged in connection with the January 6, 2021, storming of the US Capitol.

“On day one, I’m going to have people get together and look at all these cases of who’s been a gun victim or a victim of political assault, and we’re going to be aggressive about issuing pardons,” DeSantis said in his response.

Interviewer Clay Travis noted that the stance could range “from a granny who’s been arrested and prosecuted too many times, to possibly Trump himself.”

DeSantis replied, “I would say that any instance of discrimination based on politics or the use of weapons, no matter how small or large, would be included in this review.”

The Justice Department said more than 1,033 defendants were arrested this month as part of its probe into the Capitol riot.

The governor’s remarks on The Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show were part of a 12-stage media campaign on his first full day as the official Republican presidential nominee. The governor filed papers with the Federal Elections Commission on Wednesday, then confirmed his candidacy in a live Twitter discussion with Elon Musk that was plagued by technical difficulties.

Trump is the clear leader in most polls in the Republican primary, with DeSantis his closest competitor. But Trump faces a legal burden that could erode his lead as the primary heats up.

Trump was indicted by prosecutors in Manhattan last month on dozens of counts of falsifying business records related to hush money payments to women just before the 2016 election. Trump is also at the center of an investigation into possible interference in the 2020 Georgia election.

The New York criminal case is scheduled to begin hearing March 25, 2024, in the middle of primary season. DeSantis could not excuse Trump for a possible conviction in this case.

At the federal level, where criminal charges are subject to the president’s clemency powers, U.S. Department of Justice Special Counsel Jack Smith is investigating the events of January 6, 2021 and the delivery of classified documents to Trump’s vacation spot in Mar-a-Lago after he left the presidency.

In Thursday’s interview, DeSantis also accused the Justice Department and the FBI of being “armed” in a variety of other ways, including by “going after parents” who attend school board meetings. Attorney General Merrick Garland has defended the DOJ against these Republican allegations.

DeSantis said he plans to use the parole power “on the front lines” rather than wait until the end of his term in the White House.

“We will find examples where the government has been used as a weapon against disadvantaged groups and we will grant relief where appropriate. But that will be on a case-by-case basis,” he said.