ELKADER, Iowa — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis offered the clearest indication yet that he would pardon former President Donald Trump if he were to be convicted on the multiple criminal charges he faces, clarifying previously murky answers on how the Republican governor would use his pardon powers if elected president.
In an exchange with reporters after a campaign event in Iowa on Friday, DeSantis said when asked about a pardon for Trump that he had "already said that long ago."
"I think we got to move on as a country and, you know, like Ford did to Nixon, because the divisions are just not in the country’s interest," he said.
Pressed again on whether he would specifically pardon Trump, DeSantis reiterated, “Yeah, I said that months ago.” Asked by NBC News to confirm the governor meant that he would indeed pardon a convicted Trump if elected, DeSantis' campaign spokesperson said, "Correct," in a response on Saturday.
Since launching his campaign in May, DeSantis has seemed to tiptoe around the question of pardoning Trump if he were to win the White House. In an interview with former Fox News host Megyn Kelly in late July, DeSantis seemed to acknowledge that he thought granting clemency was in the best interest of the country.
“Well, what I’ve said is very simple. I’m going to do what’s right for the country," DeSantis said. "I don’t think it would be good for the country to have an almost 80-year-old former president go to prison."
DeSantis has faced the hypothetical question at other points on the campaign trail. During his first campaign stop Friday at a veterans outreach center in Iowa, a voter asked DeSantis outright if he would pardon the former president. The Florida governor swiftly pivoted to another subject, saying, “I’ve addressed that, but that’s a different thing."
The previous lack of clarity from DeSantis on the question of a pardon for Trump reflects the difficulty he and other GOP candidates face in trying to siphon support from Trump’s base while simultaneously seeking to distinguish themselves as alternatives to the former president in the nominating contest.
Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley gave similar reasoning to DeSantis' at a campaign event in New Hampshire on Thursday, echoing her comment in June that she would likely pardon the former president if he is convicted.
"I would pardon Trump if he is found guilty," Haley said in response to a question from the audience. "A leader needs to think about what's in the best interests of the country. What's in the best interests of the country is not to have an 80-year-old man sitting in jail that continues to divide our country. What’s in the best interest of the country would be to pardon him so that we can move on as a country and no longer talk about him.”
Haley’s comments drew criticism from fellow Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie, who suggested she was not being honest with voters about Trump’s conduct in office.
“We need to tell the truth about this,” said Christie, a former New Jersey governor who has become one of Trump's most vocal critics. Christie told voters at an event in the Seacoast region of New Hampshire that pardoning Trump would make the United States “no better than a lot of these tin pot democracies ... around the world.”
GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, a frequent Trump defender, has said he supports pardoning the former president and that it would help reunite the country. In an interview with ABC News in September, Ramaswamy said he draws a distinction between bad and illegal behavior in reference to Trump’s actions leading up to the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol and his handling of classified documents, adding that the former president should not be prosecuted for those actions.
Trump is facing dozens of felony counts in four criminal cases against him, which separately include allegations of election interference in federal and state cases, mishandling of classified documents, and falsifying business records in relation to hush money payments. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges and has denied any wrongdoing in the cases.