US election: is there any limit to who Donald Trump can pardon before leaving White House?

President grants clemency to former national security adviser Michael Flynn

Donald Trump seen with Thanksgiving turkey "Corn" before it was pardoned.
Donald Trump about to perform the traditional Thanksgiving turkey-pardoning ceremony
(Image credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

Donald Trump has pardoned his former national security adviser for lying to the FBI during Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

In a tweet yesterday, the president said that “it is my Great Honor to announce that General Michael T Flynn has been granted a Full Pardon”. Flynn was forced to resign after just 24 days in the White House when it emerged that he had deceived the White House about a meeting with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak before Trump took office.

“A trusted Trump surrogate on the campaign trail”, Flynn subsequently admitted to having had contact with Kislyak before later attempting to retract his confession, The Guardian reports.

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Trump has already granted clemency to his long-time ally Roger Stone, who was sentenced to more than three years in prison after being found guilty of obstruction, lying to Congress and witness intimidation during the Mueller investigation.

Flynn, meantime, “had not been sentenced”, but his presidential pardon has “prompted widespread criticism”, says the newspaper. But regardless of such opposition, Trump is expected to offer pardons to a number of key aides before he leaves office in January.

As Reuters reports, “a pardon is not reviewable by other branches of government and the president does not have to give a reason for issuing one” - meaning that Trump could in theory issue them to anyone he chooses in the final days of the presidency.

A presidential pardon ���wipes out a criminal conviction”, but is not absolute and only applies to federal crimes, the news agency continues. So Trump could not issue a pardon to protect “associates from the criminal investigation being conducted by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, a state prosecutor”.

Vance is currently pursuing an investigation into allegations of “hush money” payments made by ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen to two women, an adult-film star and a former Playboy model, who claim they had sexual encounters with the US leader.

Contrary to popular belief, Trump also cannot pardon himself.

“Most lawyers believe that the Supreme Court - even a conservative one - would never let a president pardon himself,” ITV News says. “That would be an admission that one man is above the law - the president. And America fought a revolutionary war against that concept.”

However, if the long arm of the law was getting a little too close for comfort, Trump could resign from the Oval Office and get Vice President Mike Pence - who would replace him as president - to issue a pardon for him.

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Joe Evans is the world news editor at He joined the team in 2019 and held roles including deputy news editor and acting news editor before moving into his current position in early 2021. He is a regular panellist on The Week Unwrapped podcast, discussing politics and foreign affairs. 

Before joining The Week, he worked as a freelance journalist covering the UK and Ireland for German newspapers and magazines. A series of features on Brexit and the Irish border got him nominated for the Hostwriter Prize in 2019. Prior to settling down in London, he lived and worked in Cambodia, where he ran communications for a non-governmental organisation and worked as a journalist covering Southeast Asia. He has a master’s degree in journalism from City, University of London, and before that studied English Literature at the University of Manchester.