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Some of Trump's 2024 rivals have already pledged to pardon him if he's convicted

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A major question dividing the Republican presidential primary field right now involves presidential pardons and whether or not to use them. The front-runners are promising to consider pardons for those who stormed the Capitol on January 6, and some candidates are already pledging to use pardon power to protect Donald Trump.

Here's NPR political correspondent Susan Davis.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: The two leading candidates for the Republican nomination say a pardon review will be a day-one priority if they win the White House.

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DONALD TRUMP: We will treat those people from January 6 fairly. We will treat them fairly.

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TRUMP: And if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons.

S DAVIS: Donald Trump's closest rival, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, told a conservative talk show that he would authorize a case-by-case review of charges. That's including the more than 1,000 people charged in relation to January 6 - potentially all the way up to Trump himself. He remains under federal investigation for his role in the attack.

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RON DESANTIS: I would say any example of disfavored treatment based on politics or weaponization would be included in that review no matter how small or how big.

S DAVIS: Tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy also pledged to consider pardons for what he called peaceful protesters. It's one of the clear ideological lines dividing the primary where candidates including former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Vice President Mike Pence are running as more traditional, rule-of-law-style Republicans. Here's Pence during a recent CNN town hall.

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MIKE PENCE: I have no interest or no intention of pardoning those that assaulted police officers or vandalized our capital. They need to be answerable to the law.

S DAVIS: Former Illinois Republican Congressman Rodney Davis was in the Capitol on January 6. He voted to certify the 2020 election, and he does not support Trump's reelection. But he also says pardon consideration for certain nonviolent January 6 offenders might be reasonable.

RODNEY DAVIS: If there are indictments and if there are convictions for people who simply walked in an open door and walked around the Capitol and left - if that's the case, those are the indictments, the arrests, the convictions, that I'm sure anyone would want to take a look at.

S DAVIS: Consideration of mass pardons is not unprecedented, according to American University professor Jeffrey Crouch, an expert on pardon power. He noted Presidents Lincoln and Johnson issued mass pardons for Confederate soldiers at the end of the Civil War, and Presidents Carter and Ford offered amnesties related to the Vietnam War.

JEFFREY CROUCH: The purpose of the pardon power is to provide a safety valve when the criminal justice system either gets it wrong or when societal unrest needs to be addressed.

S DAVIS: But, Crouch added...

CROUCH: It should not be used to help out the president's family or friends or political allies.

S DAVIS: Republican candidates are also now debating whether it should be used to help the former president. Ramaswamy was one of the first candidates to pledge to pardon Trump after his most recent federal indictment for allegedly mishandling classified documents. He tried to rally protesters outside of the Miami courthouse, where Trump was arraigned Tuesday, with this message.

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VIVEK RAMASWAMY: I have demanded that every other candidate in this race either sign this commitment to pardon on January 20, 2025, or else to explain why they are not.

S DAVIS: Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley hasn't signed his pledge, but told a conservative talk show that she would be inclined to pardon Trump if he's convicted in the documents case. And should Trump win next November, the constitutional debate over whether or not a president can pardon himself might finally get an answer, says professor Crouch.

CROUCH: And then, of course, it would ultimately be up to the Supreme Court to decide. From the president's perspective, attempting a self-pardon might fail, but it also might succeed.

S DAVIS: While that might be a popular idea in a Republican primary, it likely wouldn't be in a general election. An April NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found a majority of Americans think the investigations are fair and that, if Trump is convicted, he should not be reelected.

Susan Davis, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRENT FAIYAZ SONG, "WASTING TIME (FEAT. DRAKE)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.