The last days of Donald Trump's presidency have been nothing short of chaotic – so far filled with inciting an insurrection, an impeachment and a refusal to attend his successor Joe Biden's January 20 inauguration.
As if that weren't enough for the history books, however, Trump's allies have collected huge amounts of money for access to the outgoing President from those seeking pardons before he leaves office, a bombshell new report by The New York Times has detailed.
The "ad hoc" system – said to be run by the President's son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, supposedly bypasses the usual "intensive justice department review process intended to identify and vet the most deserving recipients from among thousands of clemency applications," the paper reports.
White House sources told CNN that Trump will issue roughly 100 pardon and commutations on his final full day in office on Tuesday (Wednesday NZT).
Presidential pardons, while not implying innocence, are intended to show mercy to deserving recipients, setting aside any punishment and restoring civil rights lost to a convicted criminal.
Yet, like almost everything in the last four years, they're a power that's been taken to the extreme by Trump, who has instead rewarded them to his personal and political allies, and even, pre-emptively, to his own children.
According to the Times, one former federal prosecutor, Brett Tolman, has collected "tens of thousands dollars, and possibly more, in recent weeks to lobby the White House for clemency" from three separate people.
Tolman, who has been advising the White House on pardons and commutations, has been credited with helping less well-connected offenders win clemency, and wrote on Twitter that he has "represented many to get clemency".
John Dowd, Trump's former personal lawyer, has claimed his close relationship to the President could secure pardons, marketing himself to convicted felons and accepting tens of thousand dollars from them, giving advice to "potential clients to leverage Trump's grievances about the justice system".
Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani also allegedly told ex-CIA officer John Kiriakou, who was jailed in 2012 for leaking the identity of an operative involved in torture, a presidential pardon was "going to cost $2 million".
Giuliani rejected Kiriakou's version of events, saying he didn't work as a pardon broker because he already represented Trump.
"It's like a conflict of interest," he told the paper, adding that while he had heard large fees were being offered, "I have enough money. I'm not starving."
The report also identified lobbyists – including Matt Schlapp and Mark Cowan – it said were seeking pardons on behalf of fee-paying clients.
And while it's not illegal to do so, "this kind of off-books influence peddling, special-privilege system denies consideration to the hundreds of ordinary people who have obediently lined up as required by Justice Department rules", Margaret Love, who was the United States pardon lawyer at the Department of Justice for seven years, told the paper.
"[It's] a basic violation of the long-standing effort to make this process at least look fair," she said.
Along with his children, Giuliani and Kushner, the President has also reportedly discussed taking the "extraordinary" step of pardoning himself for crimes he has yet to be charged with.
If he takes the step, a separate piece by The New York Times said it "would mark one of the most extraordinary and untested uses of presidential power in American history".
It's also not clear – since a President has never pardoned himself – whether such an act would actually prevent Trump from facing legal trouble.