Former President Trump’s promise to grant pardons to the rioters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, is running into strong opposition from Senate Republicans.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of Trump’s closest allies, told The Hill that granting pardons to Jan. 6 protesters is “a bad idea.”
“Pardons are given to people who admit misconduct, rehabilitate themselves. They’re not supposed to be used for other purposes,” he said.
Other Republican senators are joining Graham in criticizing Trump’s promise to pardon the Jan. 6 protesters as inappropriate.
“I don’t think potential candidates should hold pardons out as a promise,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), who is usually a reliable Trump ally. “It’s somewhat problematic for me on a moral level and an ethical level — sort of like promising other giveaways to particular individuals.
“I prefer avoiding those kinds of things,” he said.
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said he wouldn’t support granting pardons to people convicted of crimes because of their actions on Jan. 6.
“If he were elected, he would have a constitutional ability to do it,” he said of Trump’s promise of pardons. “I would disagree with it. I think there was insurrection and I think these folks need to be punished.
“I was there. This was truly violent. People were injured, people were killed. I have very little mercy for the individuals that were involved in that activity that day,” Rounds added.
Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) said people who committed crimes on Jan. 6 must face the consequences of their actions.
“The only people that get pardoned are people who are charged with crimes. If they were charged with crimes, they ought to be prosecuted like everybody else,” he said. “The rule of law applies. If people broke laws, they need to be held accountable.”
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who voted last year to impeach Trump on the charge of inciting an insurrection on Jan. 6, said pardoning people who invaded the Capitol to stop Biden’s election would be wrong.
“The Jan. 6 riot was an attack on the temple of democracy, and the people who violated the law, attacked our law enforcement and besmirched our nation’s Capitol should be prosecuted according to the law, and certainly should not be pardoned,” he said. “It’s a grossly inappropriate comment to make.”
Not every Republican is quick to dismiss the idea of a pardon.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) who raised a fist to protestors outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, before he and other members of Congress were evacuated during the insurrection, is more open to the idea of granting leniency to pro-Trump protesters.
“Let’s see which ones he would choose to do,” Hawley said of the prospect of Trump pardoning Jan. 6 protesters if he wins another term in the White House. “There’s no question it has been a massive prosecutorial effort.“
He and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who both led objections to the Electoral College tally in January 2021, argue the Department of Justice (DOJ) is punishing Trump supporters who entered the Capitol on Jan. 6 much more aggressively than the rioters who destroyed property at Black Lives Matter demonstrations in 2020.
“I think that the folks who committed crimes, particularly violent crimes, on that day ought to be prosecuted,” Hawley said of the Jan. 6 protesters who have been sentenced to prison. “I think the question becomes, are there people who’ve been caught up in this drag net who, for instance, didn’t know that they were trespassing?“
“There’s a lot of concern about, frankly, the double standard at [the Department of Justice] going after people who may have at most trespassed on federal property and not even known they did it versus folks who have in [Black Lives Matter] riots committed violent crimes and not been prosecuted,” he added, referring to the failure to prosecute people who destroyed property at riots in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police.
“There absolutely is undeniably a double standard,” he said.
Hawley said the Department of Justice has filed briefs asking for leniency for Black Lives Matter protesters who destroyed property or caused injuries because their actions were motivated by a desire for social justice, while federal prosecutors have sought maximum penalties for Trump supporters who entered the Capitol last year.
Federal prosecutors, for example, asked for an 18-month prison sentence for Richard Michetti, who was arrested after his ex-girlfriend turned him in to law enforcement.
Michetti was charged with aiding and abetting obstruction of an official proceeding after entering and remaining in the Capitol for 45 minutes on Jan. 6, where he yelled obscenities at police officers. He was sentenced last week to 24 months of supervised release and ordered to pay a $2,000 penalty.
A study published by Time magazine in June found that 840 people had been charged with storming the Capitol on that day and that about a quarter of them have received criminal sentences, with a median prison sentence of 45 days.
Trump told conservative radio host Wendy Bell on Sept. 1 that he would issue full pardons and apologize to many of his supporters who were prosecuted for their actions on Jan. 6.
“I mean full pardons with an apology to many,” he said earlier this month.
Cruz said there’s a big difference between protesters who attacked Capitol police officers and smashed the Capitol’s windows and doorways and Trump supporters who showed up at the Capitol to voice their opposition to certifying Biden as president.
“I think there is a stark difference between acts of violence and peaceful protest. Acts of violence are unacceptable from any political perspective. Peaceful protest is protected by the first amendment of the Constitution,” Cruz said when asked about Trump’s promise to pardon many Jan. 6 protesters.
“The Biden Justice Department has used Jan. 6 and the violent acts of a few to justify persecuting the peaceful protest and political speech of the many,” he said. “It is wildly inconsistent.
“The Department of Justice turns a blind eye to violent rioters who looted, destroyed and firebombed American cities across the country but is eager to target anyone who dares speak on the other side of the aisle,” he said, citing Biden’s recent speech in Philadelphia, where he accused Trump and his allies of pushing a form of political extremism that “threatens the very foundations of our republic.”
“This past week it got so bad that Joe Biden, bathed in red light, decreed that half the nation are fascists because they dare to disagree with his socialist policies,” Cruz said. “What DOJ is doing, targeting the political enemies of the White House, is corrupt and incredibly harmful.”
Asked if people who illegally entered the Capitol on Jan. 6 should receive pardons if they didn’t assault officers or destroy property, Cruz would only say “acts of violence are qualitatively different.”
A study of court records by The Associated Press have found that federal prosecutors have filed more than 300 cases related to the protests that swept America after Floyd’s death.
It also found that more than 120 defendants have pleaded guilty to crimes such as rioting and arson and that more than 70 have received sentences, with the average penalty being 27 months in prison.
Graham, one of Trump’s staunchest allies in the Senate, said granting pardons to people who tried to intimidate and stop lawmakers from doing their jobs would set a bad precedent.
“It reinforces violence. The people who defiled the Capitol and took the law in their own hands deserve to be brought to justice,” he said.
–Updated at 10:16 a.m.