Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who officially stepped into the presidential race this week, said Thursday that, if elected, he would consider pardoning people involved in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol — possibly including his rival for the GOP nomination, former President Donald Trump.
DeSantis has consistently polled second to Trump in national surveys and has sought to draw a contrast with the former president while being reluctant to attack him outright. In an appearance on "The Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show," a conservative talk radio show, DeSantis said that on "Day One" of his presidency he would have his staff examine cases of Jan. 6 rioters, pro-life demonstrators and parents arrested over their actions at school board meetings, and would be "aggressive" in issuing pardons.
"We will use the pardon power — and I will do that at the front end," DeSantis said, claiming that the Justice Department and the FBI had been "weaponized" to unevenly punish people from "disfavored groups."
When asked whether he would consider pardoning Trump if he were charged with federal offenses, DeSantis responded that "any example of disfavored treatment based on politics or weaponization would be included in that review, no matter how small or how big."
A Trump campaign spokesman didn't respond specifically to a request for comment on DeSantis' remarks. Campaign spokesman Steven Cheung instead pointed to an NBC News report that DeSantis administration officials have solicited campaign contributions from Florida lobbyists — a breach of traditional norms that raises ethical and legal questions — and called the Florida governor "the 2024 version of Crooked Hillary."
DeSantis’ office did not return a request for comment on the campaign solicitations.
On Jan. 6, 2021, Trump supporters attacked the Capitol in an effort to stop the certification of Joe Biden's presidential win. The siege and its aftermath resulted in five people dead and about 140 members of law enforcement injured. More than 1,000 people involved in the attack have been arrested, with more than 480 sentenced. Hundreds of additional Jan. 6 rioters have been identified but not yet charged.
Throughout his candidacy, Trump has praised the rioters, many of them convicted of violent crimes. Earlier this month, Trump said he would pardon a "large portion" of the people convicted of federal offenses for their roles in the riot.
“I am inclined to pardon many of them,” Trump said at a town hall hosted by CNN at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire. “I can’t say for every single one, because a couple of them, probably they got out of control.”
A special counsel is investigating Trump for his actions related to the Jan. 6 attack, though no charges have been announced. In March, Trump was indicted by a Manhattan grand jury on charges of falsifying business records around hush money given toward the end of his 2016 campaign to a woman he allegedly had an affair with, which the Manhattan district attorney said violated state law and exceeded the federal campaign contribution cap. Trump has repeatedly denied the affair and pleaded not guilty to the Manhattan district attorney's charges.
Earlier this month, Trump was found liable for sexual abuse and defamation in a civil trial, which is not subject to a presidential pardon — a constitutional power that applies only to federal crimes.
Still, some Republican candidates have publicly pledged to pardon Trump if they are elected president. Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy promised to pardon Trump on his first day in office should he be elected president. Republican candidate Perry Johnson said the same.