Opinion: How Trump's Pardons Could Get Even More Bizarre

4 minute read | December.23.2020

President Donald Trump announced a wave of pardons on Tuesday for people ranging from Republican allies to two men who pleaded guilty in Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. Meanwhile, speculation grows about whether President Trump will pardon three of his adult children, his son-in-law, or even himself before his term ends on January 20.

But what if he issues these pardons and — unlike those just made public — no one finds out? That is not as far-fetched as it seems.

Trump's pardon power derives from a brief clause in the Constitution that simply gives him the authority to grant "Reprieves and Pardons" for federal offenses. But the Constitution imposes no requirement that a pardon be made public, filed, or disclosed at any time, including before the President leaves office. Although a federal law, the Presidential Records Act, does require that all presidential decisions be adequately documented — and that those records be filed with the National Archives when the President leaves office — the law is relatively toothless and does not include a process for enforcing it.