In what could be the longest of legal long shots, several of those arrested for storming the U.S. Capitol are holding out hope that President Donald Trump will use some of his last hours in office to grant the rioters a full pardon.
Longtime advisers to Trump are urging him against such a move but the rioters contend their argument is compelling: They went to the Capitol to support Trump, and now that they are facing charges carrying up to 20 years in prison, it’s time for Trump to support them.
“I feel like I was basically following my president. I was following what we were called to do. He asked us to fly there. He asked us to be there. So I was doing what he asked us to do,” said Jenna Ryan, a Dallas-area real-estate agent who took a private jet to the Jan. 6 rally and ensuing riot to disrupt the certification of the election of President-elect Joe Biden.
Ryan — who prosecutors say posted a now-deleted video of herself marching to the Capitol with the words, “We are going to f—ing go in here. Life or death” — told Dallas television station KTVT: “I think we all deserve a pardon. I’m facing a prison sentence. I think I do not deserve that.”
Perhaps the most high-profile rioter, the so-called “QAnon Shaman” who broke into the Senate chamber and posed at the dais with a spear, wearing a horned fur hat and animal skins, is also pleading for a pardon.
Jacob Chansley’s lawyer told The Associated Press that he reached out to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows about a possible pardon on behalf of the Arizona man, acknowledging it might be a reach but that there’s nothing to lose in seeking one.
If Chansley is not granted a pardon, attorney Albert Watkins said, it could offer the added benefit of further awakening his client to the fact that his devotion to Trump has not been reciprocated, comparing it to being a jilted lover or even a member of a cult.
“The only thing that was missing at the Capitol was the president, our president, stirring up the Kool-Aid with a big spoon,” Watkins said.
Dominic Pezzola, a Rochester, New York, man and far-right Proud Boys supporter who was seen in a video using a clear police shield to shatter a Capitol window, also explored seeking a pardon but his attorney said there was not enough time to make it happen.
“To believe the president is going to carte blanche issue these pardons is kind of a fantasy,” defence attorney Mike Scibetta told the AP. “I think it would cast a shadow on his own impeachment defence.”
Trump, who has long reveled in suspense, was expected to spend his last full day in office issuing a flurry of pardons to as many as 100 people, two people briefed on the plans told the AP.
But if Harvard Law professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz has his say, the more than 150 rioters arrested so far and the thousands more suspected should not be among them.
Dershowitz, who represented Trump in his first impeachment last year, told the AP he has not been approached by any of the rioters about seeking a pardon but even if he had, “it would be wrong to pardon rioters who committed crimes.”
South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who speaks often with Trump, was among the confidantes urging the president not to go there.
“I don’t care if you went there and spread flowers on the floor, you breached the security of the Capitol, you interrupted a joint session of Congress, you tried to intimidate us all,” Graham said on Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures.” “You should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and to seek a pardon of these people would be wrong.
He warned that such a move “would destroy President Trump.”
Pardons normally go through an extensive vetting process within the Department of Justice. The Office of the Pardon Attorney, which handles these reviews, did not respond to a request for comment, but former federal prosecutors said Trump giving clemency to those at the Capitol would be highly unusual.
Such pardons would be “a slap in the face to the law enforcement officers who protected the Capitol and our leaders who were inside,” said Joe Brown, who until last year was a U.S. attorney in Texas.
Not all of those charged in the Jan. 6 riot are in the market for a pardon. Victoria Bergeson of Groton, Connecticut, who faces charges of violating curfew and unlawful entry wants her case to “just go away” but sees accepting a pardon “as an admission that she knowingly did something wrong,” said her attorney Samuel Bogash.
“She does not want to do that due to a justifiable fear of how the public would perceive it,” he said. “She is already being trolled online.”
Noah Bookbinder, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group, said Trump’s use of his clemency powers has set up a “spoils system” for his allies and pardoning the insurrectionists would just be a more extreme version.
“That this president might be willing, even to pardon those who rose up against the United States,” he said, “would be the ultimate statement of his perversion of the purpose behind pardons.”
Bleiberg reported from Dallas, Mustian from New York. AP White House reporter Jill Colvin contributed to this report.