The people who spoke with Trump were granted anonymity to describe their discussions frankly.
The previously unreported conversations show that Trump wasn’t simply musing when he told supporters at a Texas rally last weekend that he would consider pardoning people prosecuted for their role in the Jan. 6 attack if he runs for president again in 2024 and wins. Even in the immediate aftermath of the riot, Trump was expressing sympathy for those involved and weighing how he could shield them from legal consequences.
“If I run and I win, we will treat those people from Jan. 6 fairly,” he said at the Saturday rally outside Houston. “And if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons, because they are being treated so unfairly.” The comments have triggered complaints among members of the House Jan. 6 committee that Trump is engaging in witness tampering.
A spokesperson for Trump declined to comment.
Trump’s consideration of preemptive pardons quickly hit a wall. It was unclear how he could pardon an entire class of people that hadn’t been charged. “You didn’t know who the FBI was going to arrest down the road,” the first adviser said.
At the same time, the White House counsel’s office was forcefully telling Trump what he could not do as president, this person said.
“There was a dangling threat that if he pushed too hard, [White House counsel Pat] Cipollone would leave,” the adviser said. Cipollone declined to comment.
The second adviser said that Trump’s interest in pardoning the participants was like many of the other ideas that he’s floated in the past to a cadre of aides — more brainstorming and soliciting their opinion than deliberately adopting a plan. The person said that while Trump considered the blanket pardon, at the time he was more focused on challenging the election results.
A third adviser who spoke with Trump frequently in the final days before he left office recalled that Trump asked questions about whether he should announce his intention to run again in 2024 before Biden’s inauguration.
“At the time, he wanted to not just be the leader of the party, but flat-out show the world that he’s running again and you’re not going to stop him,” the person said.
But Trump learned that a formal announcement would trigger concerns about campaign finance regulations he’d be forced to comply with immediately after leaving office. According to two advisers, he settled on more general language, like “I’ll be back.”
The first adviser said that Trump saw announcing his presidency right away as a way to frame any future prosecutions against him as politically motivated. Trump also thought that blasting the 2020 election as “rigged” — a claim made without evidence — would energize his base over the next four years, the person said.
“He wanted to carry the sense of grievance into the election cycle,” the adviser said. “He said, ‘I’m running again.’”