New era opens in Washington as spotlight falls on Biden’s nominees for governing roles at State Department and Pentagon.
On his final full day in office on Tuesday, US President Donald Trump – who himself faces legal jeopardy – is expected to pardon as many as 100 people, local media reported, capping a tumultuous four-year term in office.
Reuters reported sources saying the rapper Lil Wayne, who faces a 10 year sentence over gun charges was on the list, but not his former adviser Steve Bannon or private lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
Last-minute presidential pardons have long been customary for outgoing US presidents.
Although the authority was put in place to give presidents humanitarian authority to overturn wrongful convictions, to commute excessively harsh sentences to rehabilitated individuals, or make a gesture of mercy – many presidents have used the power as favours for supporters and allies.
And Trump appears on track to carry on that tradition.
The US Constitution awards the president the authority to issue “reprieves and pardons for offences against the United States”.
But a president can only pardon federal crimes, and not state crimes. And he cannot issue pardons for impeachment cases in Congress.
Legal experts noted that a pardon does not overturn a conviction, it rather exempts the person of punishment – such as jail time or monetary fines – under that conviction.
Although most pardons are issued to people who have already been sentenced in court, they can also be pre-emptive, covering conduct that has not yet been prosecuted or led to a guilty verdict, but they cannot apply to crimes committed in the future.
Perhaps the most famous example of a pre-emptive pardon in US history is that of President Gerald Ford who pardoned his predecessor Richard Nixon after he resigned in 1974 for all crimes he might have committed while in office.
According to Reuters news agency, the rapper Lil Wayne is expected to be pardoned.
Lil Wayne, who appeared to back Trump’s reelection bid last year, pleaded guilty last month to a Miami gun charge and faces as many as 10 years in prison when he is sentenced on January 28.
Sources also confirmed to the news agency a report in the New York Times that Trump would also grant clemency to former New York Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver, 76, who was convicted of corruption charges in 2015.
While there has been fevered speculation that Trump will also pardon his former campaign adviser , and co-founder of the far-right Breitbart News, Steve Bannon, as well as his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, sources told Reuters that was not likely.
Bannon was charged last year with lying to donors about how their contributions to a campaign to build a wall along the US-Mexico border, would be used. Federal prosecutors have been investigating Giuliani over his business dealings in Ukraine, and two of his associates have already been charged.
Trump is expected to grant clemency to some who have been subjected to excessively harsh sentences or managed to rehabilitate themselves while in prison. People convicted to years in prison over non-violent drug offences were likely to get pardons, the Times said.
He notably pardoned former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, former adviser Roger Stone, as well as former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn who were convicted as part of a special counsel probe into Russian interference in the 2016 US election.
He also pardoned Charles Kushner, the father of his son-in-law, Jared. The real estate developer was sentenced to two years in prison in 2005 for illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion, and witness tampering.
Yes, Trump can and may pardon his adult children, Don Jr, Eric and Ivanka, all three of whom have taken on prominent roles working in the White House and for his campaign. So far, none has been officially charged with any crimes.
There is no precedent for this as no US president has done it, so it will remain up to the courts to decide if Trump has the legal authority to pardon himself under the Constitution.
A January 2 phone call to Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger could also land him in legal jeopardy. During a leaked audio recording he was heard asking Raffensperger to “find” the votes he needed to win the state from Joe Biden – a move that could be interpreted as trying to intervene in an election, which is a violation of federal law.
There is also speculation that Trump could be ensnared in investigations of former associates or even new investigations being opened after he leaves office. However, there are multiple state and local investigations into Trump and his businesses that would not be covered by a presidential pardon.
According to the New York Times, however, there are “no plans” for the outgoing president to pre-emptively pardon himself or his two adult sons. Officials in the White House are concerned that if Trump does give himself a pardon it could turn more Republicans against him in the Senate where he is due to face an impeachment trial, the paper said.