President Donald Trump has lately been making some assertions about presidential pardons. On July 22, he tweeted that “the U.S. president has complete power to pardon.” The tweets came two days before his son-in-law Jared Kushner was set to speak with the Senate Intelligence Committee about his contacts with Russian officials during the campaign.
But before the leader of the free world evaluates what’s possible in terms of pardoning his relatives and aides, he may want to take a look back at the presidential pardon that shook Washington, D.C. in the 1970s.
Following the infamous Watergate scandal which forced President Richard Nixon to resign on August 8, 1974, newly sworn-in President Gerald Ford pardoned his predecessor for his crime, just one month after taking office.
The decision to excuse Nixon from any prosecution, was an attempt to pull the country together in the wake of what he called America’s “long national nightmare.” It backfired. Pardoning Nixon caused Ford’s approval ratings to plummet – only 38 percent of Americans agreed that Ford should pardon Nixon, while 53 percent believed that Nixon shouldn’t have been pardoned, according to a Gallup poll taken in September of 1974.
The move by Ford is thought to have been a factor in his unsuccessful bid at re-election in 1976. President Trump, who already faces low approval rates among American voters, may want to take the actions of Ford as a lesson if he hopes to have a chance at re-election in 2020.