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DeSantis doesn’t rule out pardoning Trump, Jan. 6 defendants if elected president

Former US President Donald Trump’s supporters gather outside the Capitol building, January 6, 2021.

Probal Rashid | LightRocket | Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday he would make it a “day one” priority as president to issue pardons for people who are deemed to be victims of “political targeting,” and implied former President Donald Trump could be part of that group.

DeSantis, Trump’s top rival in the 2024 Republican presidential primary race, was asked on a conservative talk show if he would consider pardoning the former president, should he be charged with federal crimes. The Department of Justice is conducting multiple criminal investigations involving Trump.

The governor was also asked if he believed the next Republican president should look at pardoning defendants charged in relation to the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the U.S. Capitol.

“On day one, I will have folks that will get together and look at all these cases, who people are victims of weaponization or political targeting and we will be aggressive at issuing pardons,” DeSantis said in his response.

Interviewer Clay Travis noted that stance could apply “from a grandma who got arrested and prosecuted too much all the way up to, potentially, Trump himself.”

DeSantis replied, “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.”

The Justice Department said this month more than 1,033 defendants have been arrested as part of its probe of the Capitol riot.

The governor’s remarks on “The Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show” came as part of a 12-stop media blitz on his first full day as an official Republican presidential candidate. The governor filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday and then confirmed his candidacy in a live Twitter discussion with Elon Musk that was plagued with technical difficulties.

Trump is the clear front-runner in most polls of the Republican primary, with DeSantis his closest competitor. But Trump faces legal exposure that could erode his lead as the primary heats up.

Trump was charged last month by Manhattan prosecutors with dozens of counts of falsifying business records related to hush money payments sent to women shortly before the 2016 election. Trump is also at the center of an investigation into potential interference in Georgia’s election in 2020.

The New York criminal case is set for trial starting March 25, 2024, in the thick of the primary election season. DeSantis could not pardon Trump for a potential conviction in that case.

At the federal level, where criminal charges are subject to the president’s clemency powers, DOJ special counsel Jack Smith is investigating the events of Jan. 6, 2021, and the transfer of classified documents to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort home after he left the presidency.

DeSantis in the interview Thursday also accused the DOJ and FBI of being “weaponized” in multiple other ways, including by “going after parents” attending school board meetings. Attorney General Merrick Garland has defended the DOJ against those accusations from Republicans.

DeSantis said he planned to use the pardon power “at the front end” instead of waiting until the end of his term in the White House.

“We’re going to find examples where the government’s been weaponized against disfavored groups, and we will apply relief as appropriate. But it will be done on a case-by-case basis,” he said.

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