There’s a long perception that Donald Trump makes his living as a real estate developer. However, it’s been clear for a long time that Trump’s major occupation is actually going to court. Even before he announced his candidacy in 2015, Trump had been involved in over 3,500 court cases. That doesn’t just include all the times Trump has sued contractors, or all the times contractors have sued Trump. It includes the 106 charges of money laundering lodged against one Trump casino in just 18 months. It does not include the settlement to end legal proceedings over Trump’s fake university scam, or the settlement over Trump’s fake charity scam, and any of the dozens of legal filings Trump has taken in an effort to keep his taxes hidden. It definitely doesn’t include all the lawsuits Trump has filed in an attempt to prevent information from being revealed from his time in the White House, or the hundreds of lawsuits and appeals his team pushed following the election.
The point is, Trump may not be a lawyer, but there are few attorneys in the nation who have anything like Trump’s level of experience in weaseling out of legal issues. That includes how to threaten, pay off, and generally influence witnesses.
That particular skill was evident during Trump’s first impeachment, and during the whole Trump-Russia investigation, where Trump repeatedly made clear that those who kept their lips zipped would find a nice little bonus. Right, Mr. Manafort? While those who cooperated in any way would be left out to dry. Got that, Mr. Cohen?
So when Trump gets on a rally stage and tells Jan. 6 defendants that, should he return to power, a pardon is on the menu for them all, he understands that this influences how those charged in connection with the insurgency will testify. And that message goes out to more than just the people who have already been indicted.
Politico is now reporting that Trump made a number of calls on his last day in office, asking advisers if he should pardon “everyone with a Trump sign or everyone who went into the Capitol.” And the reason:
“He thought if he could do it, these people would never have to testify or be deposed.”
As CNN reports, Trump’s offer to issue pardons is absolutely a form of witness tampering. That would be true even if the people involved thought the odds of Trump getting back in the White House were no better than 50-50, but that’s not the crowd he’s addressing. Trump is making this pitch directly to people involved in Jan. 6—the same crowd who thought he’d be restored to power that day, or on Jan. 20, or in April, or in August, or … soon. The people involved in the pro-Trump insurgency are the deepest of his deep swamp believers. They don’t just believe Trump has a chance of being back behind the Resolute Desk, they think it’s inevitable.
So when Trump tells them that he’s got pardons in the works, they understand what this means: Shut up, hunker down, and wait for rescue. No one is exactly unaware of this.
“Robert Jenkins, who is an attorney for several January 6 riot defendants, including Anthony Antonio, said Wednesday his clients are aware of Trump's offers for potential pardons and that the former President's offers could impact the defendants' cooperation. Jenkins also said he is not sure Trump's comments rise to the level of witness tampering but said the former President is putting his ‘fingers on the scales.’”
It’s hard to be more blatant than this. However, much of the media will apparently wait until Trump puts it in writing for them before getting a tiny dab upset.
But it’s not just the people arrested for waving Confederate flags or brandishing handcuffs in the Capitol who are the targets of this message. In addition to the messy, violent insurgency that took place on Jan. 6, there was an even larger threat: the extensive coup attempt conducted by Trump with the cooperation of Republican officials from county level chairmen to members of Congress.
Indictments related to that coup have not yet been filed, but the United States House Select Committee on the Jan. 6 Attack has been making it clearer and clearer that they have all the evidence necessary to explain every step in the six-point plan to overturn democracy. The subpoenas that the select committee has sent to former Trump advisers, as well as members of the slates of false electors assembled to support the attempt, show that the investigation is going well beyond people wearing horned helmets.
Those people are also getting the message that Trump will save them if they give him a chance. And since some of those same people are in sitting in the House, Senate, or in a position to affect how results are tallied at the state level, it’s a very special form of incentive. What’s good for Trump is good for them.
And what’s good for both of them is making sure that the next coup attempt is successful.