Donald Trump is reportedly preparing to issue more than 100 pardons or acts of clemency before the inauguration of Joe Biden ushers him from power.
Trump has used the pardon power liberally and mostly to reward allies and former aides, among them Michael Flynn, Roger Stone and Paul Manafort, in cases arising from the Russia investigation, and Charles Kushner, the father of his son-in-law.
Jared Kushner is reportedly running the White House process to consider and approve Trump’s final pardons, the president meeting with his chief adviser and his daughter, Ivanka Trump, to consider options on Sunday.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a key ally, has appealed to the president not to pardon anyone involved in the Capitol attack on 6 January, saying to do so would “destroy President Trump”.
Five people died after a mob incited by Trump stormed the Capitol, ransacking offices, some reportedly seeking to kidnap lawmakers and kill them.
Trump was impeached for inciting the riot, an act which could lead to criminal charges once he leaves power. After 10 House Republicans made the impeachment the most bipartisan ever, Trump will face another Senate trial. Conviction there could bar him from running for office again.
Watch: Trump impeached: What happens now?
Out of office, Trump will also be vulnerable to prosecution from federal and state authorities over his actions in office and regarding his business empire.
The Washington Post reported that it was not clear if Trump planned to issue pre-emptive pardons for close aides and family members or would attempt to pardon himself, as he is reported to have considered.
Elie Honig, a former state and federal prosecutor now a CNN analyst, said: “I expect Donald Trump to dole out pardons to wealthy well-connected people who have access to his political allies, potentially to his friends, even to himself.
“There’s only one legal way to challenge a self-pardon – a federal indictment.”
Presidential pardons do not imply innocence – a fact President Gerald Ford clung to in the face of lasting opprobrium for his pardon of Richard Nixon, his predecessor who resigned in disgrace in 1974, over the Watergate scandal.
Last-ditch pardons and acts of clemency are common as presidencies come to a close. Infamously, in 2001, Bill Clinton pardoned the fugitive financier Marc Rich on his last day in the White House.
On Sunday the New York Times reported on intensive lobbying for pardons as the Trump era draws to a close. Among startling details, an unnamed associate of Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani reportedly told an ex-CIA officer a pardon was “going to cost $2m”. Giuliani is also seen as a potential pardon recipient.
Participants in the Capitol riot have appealed directly – via television or their lawyers – for pardons from Trump. On Sunday Graham also appealed to the president directly, telling him not to pardon anyone associated with the attack.
Watch: Donald Trump in profile
“There are a lot of people urging the president to pardon the folks who participated in defiling the Capitol, the rioters,” he told Fox Business.
“I don’t care if you went there and spread flowers on the floor. You breached the security of the Capitol. You interrupted a joint session of Congress. You tried to intimidate us all. You should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and to seek a pardon of these people would be wrong. I think it would destroy President Trump, and I hope we don’t go down that road.”
Graham opposes Trump’s impeachment for inciting the riot, saying it would “destroy” the Republican party.
A prediction about destruction has come back to bite Graham before. In May 2016, after his own short-lived run for the Republican presidential nomination, the senator famously said: “If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed … and we will deserve it.”