Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was asked Thursday about the potential use of his pardon power if he’s elected president to offer clemency to the Jan. 6 defendants or even Donald Trump, and while he didn’t he answered directly, suggested that he would consider it.
DeSantis made his comments while appearing on the “The Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show“In the midst of an early media blitz a day after launching a bid for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
“A big part of being president is pardon powers. Do you think the defendants on Jan. 6 deserve to have their cases reviewed by a Republican president? What if Trump, say, is charged with federal crimes and you’re the president of the United States. United States, would you consider possibly pardoning Trump himself based on the evidence that may emerge from these charges?” Travis asked DeSantis.
The governor did not mention Trump or any specific Jan. 6 case by name, but suggested he was open to the idea.
“We’re going to be aggressive [in] issue pardons,” he said, arguing that the Justice Department and the FBI had become “weapons” to pursue political goals rather than enforce the law.
Late last year, Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed an independent prosecutor to oversee DOJ investigations of Trump, saying at the time that it “underscores the department’s commitment to independence and accountability on particularly sensitive matters.”
DeSantis’ remarks about the pardons come the same day a federal judge handed down the longest sentence yet for a Jan. 6 crime.
Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the far-right Oath Keepers, was sentenced to 18 years in prison after being convicted of seditious conspiracy and other charges. Rhodes calls himself a “political prisoner”.
“You, sir, present a constant threat and danger to this country,” the judge told Rhodes, also citing the cache of weapons the Oath Keepers had amassed outside the nation’s capital prior to the certification of Joe Biden’s presidential victory two years ago.
The Department of Justice reports that more than 1,000 people have been arrested in connection with the January 6 government investigation.
More than 300 people have been charged with assaulting, resisting or obstructing officers or employees that day, the DOJ said, and more than 100 defendants have been charged with using deadly weapons.
About 140 police officers were attacked on January 6, according to the DOJ.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a fundraising picnic for U.S. Rep. Randy Feenstra, R-Iowa, Saturday, May 13, 2023, in Sioux Center, Iowa.
On Travis and Sexton’s radio show, DeSantis said that “what I’m going to do is, I’m going to do on the first day, I’m going to have people come together and look at all these cases, which are people, who are victims of weaponry or political objective”.
The governor did not say whether he thought a pardon would be appropriate for the former president, whose conduct related to the Capitol attack is being investigated by special counsel Jack Smith.
But DeSantis said there was a possibility those charged on Jan. 6 were mistreated.
“If there are three other people who have done the same, but only in a context like [Black Lives Matter protests] and they’re not prosecuted at all, that’s an unequal application of justice, and so we’re going to find ways where that hasn’t happened and then we’re going to use the power of the pardon,” he said, then noted that “it’s going to be done on a case-by-case basis “.
“And that could be from a grandmother who was arrested and prosecuted to, potentially, Trump himself,” Travis said.
“I would say that any example of disadvantaged treatment based on policy or weaponry will be included in that review, no matter how small or large,” DeSantis said.
His campaign did not respond to a request for clarification on his pardon comments.
Florida’s governor, who has run state politics with a Republican supermajority in Tallahassee, has indicated in interviews that he would exercise more executive muscle as president than usual, while touting the office’s “leverage” that can enact changes from day one: including circumventing the rules of independent law enforcement agencies.
Asked about the DOJ and the FBI by WTN 99.7’s Steve MurphyDeSantis said, “Democratic but mostly Republican presidents have bought into this idea that they are independent. [agencies] and you cannot be involved with them. No, they answer to the president-elect. You have every right to call the attorney general, call the FBI director and say, ‘Hey, wait a minute… Why are you doing this?'”
DeSantis announced his long-awaited candidacy Wednesday night during a Twitter event with Elon Musk, which was initially delayed by technical glitches.
As some of his main opponents, such as Trump, took advantage of the malfunction to criticize DeSantis, his team said the problems were due to the event’s popularity online, having the ability to Twitter.
He enters the race as potentially Trump’s biggest challenger for the GOP nomination, early polls show.
DeSantis has at times pointed to Trump’s record on his campaign so far, saying in a radio interview in Tennessee that he felt Trump was “running to the left.”
On Thursday, he attended a donor event in Miami and raised $8.2 million in the 24 hours since his campaign began, a spokesman said.
ABC News’ Hannah Demissie, Will McDuffie and Will Steakin contributed to this report.