“So now it is reported,” tweeted President Donald Trump Sunday afternoon, “that, after destroying his life & the life of his wonderful family (and many others also), the FBI, working in conjunction with the Justice Department, has ‘lost’ the records of General Michael Flynn. How convenient. I am strongly considering a Full Pardon!”
The president’s tweet came as the coronavirus was running riot across Europe, and a mounting wave of cases in the United States was threatening to overwhelm American hospitals. It came as the administration’s own efforts to mitigate the effects of the virus have faltered, and as federal public-health officials have struggled to explain the lack of testing and the country’s ill-preparedness for the disease in comparison with nations that had less time to brace themselves. It came as some Americans were making runs on toilet paper and hand sanitizer, while other Americans were at bars in large groups despite exhortations to remain at home, and still others were stuck at airports in even larger crowds, potentially exposed to the virus because of the administration’s own travel restrictions. In short, almost nobody—except the president—woke up in the United States on Sunday thinking about the case of Michael Flynn, Trump’s one-time national security adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
The tweet seemed like a bizarre non sequitur. Why would the president, in the midst of an enormous public-health crisis—the handling of which he is catastrophically botching—want to reignite the scandal that dominated his first two years in office?
A Flynn pardon would be a genuine scandal. Yes, it’s within Trump’s power. As he frequently reminds people, he has the “absolute right” to pardon people, even people who have pleaded guilty in investigations that directly involved himself, and in which he serially sought to interfere. But pardoning Flynn for lies he told the FBI would be a transparent reward to someone Trump himself fired for telling the same lies to the vice president. It would be a reward for loyalty and for participating as a willing prop in the president’s disinformation campaign about the Russia investigation. It would be a gross abuse of power, and it would garner the president harsh criticism at a time when he is already in political trouble.