Trump has discussed with advisers pardons for his 3 eldest children and Rudy Giuliani

Mr Rudy Giuliani's potential criminal exposure is unclear. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - US President Donald Trump has discussed with advisers whether to grant preemptive pardons to his children, to his son-in-law and to his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and talked with Mr Giuliani about pardoning him as recently as last week, according to two people briefed on the matter.

Mr Trump has told others that he is concerned that a Biden Justice Department might seek retribution against the president by targeting the oldest three of his five children - Mr Donald Trump Jr, Mr Eric Trump and Ms Ivanka Trump - as well as Ms Trump's husband, Mr Jared Kushner, a White House senior adviser.

Mr Donald Trump Jr had been under investigation by Mr Robert Mueller, the special counsel, for contacts that the younger Trump had had with Russians offering damaging information on Mrs Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign, but he was never charged.

Mr Kushner provided false information to federal authorities about his contacts with foreigners for his security clearance but was given one anyway by the president.

The nature of the president's concern about any potential criminal exposure of Mr Eric Trump or Ms Ivanka Trump is unclear, although an investigation by the Manhattan district attorney into the Trump Organisation has expanded to include tax write-offs on millions of dollars in consulting fees by the company, some of which appear to have gone to Ms Ivanka Trump.

Presidential pardons, however, do not provide protection against state or local crimes.

Mr Giuliani's potential criminal exposure is unclear. He was under investigation as recently as this summer by federal prosecutors in Manhattan for his business dealings in Ukraine and his role in ousting the American ambassador there, a plot that was at the heart of the impeachment of Mr Trump.

The speculation about pardon activity at the White House is churning furiously, underscoring how much the Trump administration has been dominated by investigations and criminal prosecutions of people in the president's orbit.

Mr Trump himself was singled out by federal prosecutors as "Individual 1" in a court filing in the case that sent Michael Cohen, his former lawyer and fixer, to prison.

The president's discussions of a pardon for Mr Giuliani occurred as he has served as one of the loudest voices publicly pushing baseless claims of widespread election fraud that cost Mr Trump the election.

Many of Mr Trump's longtime aides have refused to do the president's bidding on the election results, but Mr Giuliani has repeatedly thrust himself into the spotlight to cast doubt on them, further ingratiating him with the president.

ABC News reported earlier Tuesday (Dec 1) that Mr Trump was considering pardoning family members. A spokeswoman for Mr Trump did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Mr Giuliani did not respond to a message seeking comment, but after a version of this article was published online, he attacked it on Twitter and said it was false.

Ms Christianné L. Allen, his spokeswoman, said Mr Giuliani "cannot comment on any discussions that he has with his client".

And Mr Giuliani's lawyer, Robert Costello, said: "He's not concerned about this investigation because he didn't do anything wrong, and that's been our position from Day 1."

Mr Giuliani has asked Mr Trump's campaign to pay him US$20,000 (S$26,770) a day for his work on trying to overturn the election, a figure that would make him among the most highly paid lawyers in the world.

The staggering sum has stirred opposition among Mr Trump's aides that Mr Giuliani has perpetuated the claims of election fraud in hopes of making as much money as possible.

Mr Giuliani has expressed concern that any federal investigations of his conduct that appear to have been dormant under the Trump administration could be revived in a Biden administration, according to people who have spoken to him.

Legal experts say that if Mr Trump wants to fully protect Mr Giuliani from prosecution after he leaves office, the president would most likely have to detail what crimes he believed Mr Giuliani had committed in the language of the pardon.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan have been investigating since 2019 the role of Mr Giuliani and two other associates in a wide-ranging pressure campaign directed at pushing the Ukrainian government to investigate Mr Trump's rivals, namely the son of Joe Biden.

The two Giuliani associates - Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman - were arrested in October 2019 as they prepared to board a flight from Washington to Frankfurt with one-way tickets.

Parnas and Fruman were charged with violating campaign finance laws as part of a complex scheme to undermine the former American ambassador in Kyiv, Marie L. Yovanovitch, whom Mr Giuliani and Mr Trump believed should have been doing more to pressure the Ukrainians.

Prosecutors in Manhattan continued to investigate Mr Giuliani's role in the scheme over the past year, focusing on whether he was, in pushing to oust the American ambassador to Ukraine, essentially double dipping: working not only for Mr Trump but also for Ukrainian officials who wanted the ambassador gone for their own reasons, according to people briefed on the matter.

It is a federal crime to try to influence the US government at the request or direction of a foreign official without disclosing their involvement. Mr Giuliani has said that he did nothing wrong and that he did not register as a foreign agent because he was acting on behalf of Mr Trump, not any Ukrainians.

Even as Mr Trump maintains that the election was stolen and files lawsuits aimed at delaying its certification, his White House is preparing for the final stages of his presidency.

The end of any administration typically prompts a wave of pardons, particularly when a term has been engulfed in controversy like Mr Trump's, in which several people close to him became ensnared in federal investigations.

"The pardon power has been used by many presidents in politically self-serving ways, whether it was George H.W. Bush or Clinton," said Professor Jack Goldsmith from Harvard Law School, citing how Bush pardoned six of his associates - including former Defence Secretary Caspar Weinberger - for their role in the Iran-Contra affair.

"Politically, a pardon of Giuliani would be explosive," Prof Goldsmith added, "but pardoning pals has been done before."

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