Rumored Trump Running Mate Tom Cotton Pushes for January 6 Pardons

The GOP senator also said he’d certify the election results—if he thinks they’re “fair and free.”

Republican Senator Tom Cotton speaks on the Senate floor.

Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton on the Senate floor in May.Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/AP

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GOP Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who previously called January 6 rioters “insurrectionists” who “should face the full extent of federal law,” is now singing a different tune: Many of those insurrectionists, he believes, should be “considered” for, and receive, presidential pardons.

On NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, Cotton said people “who did not attack a law enforcement officer, [and] who did not damage public property ” on Jan. 6 should be “considered” for a pardon.

“Anyone who is charged with silly misdemeanors about parading on public grounds without a permit, who did not attack a law enforcement officer, who did not damage public property, their pardon should be considered—in many cases, I would say it should be granted,” Cotton said. (As Meet the Press fill-in host Peter Alexander pointed out, that’s different from Trump’s recent pledge to pardon all of the more than 800 rioters who have been sentenced, whom he has called “hostages” and “political prisoners.”)

The senator went on to insist that he believes the Supreme Court will soon erase the insurrectionists’ convictions anyway, referring to Fischer v. US, the case focused on the Justice Department’s use of the “obstructing an official proceeding” charge against January 6 participants. (As my colleague Dan Friedman wrote, a favorable ruling for the rioters could disrupt the convictions of 350 participants; as Dan also wrote, it’s not clear how the high court will rule in the case, contrary to Cotton’s claims that it’ll be a slam-dunk for the rioters. A decision is expected by the end of the month.)

Cotton’s change of heart over the treatment of the insurrectionists under the law may have something to do with his rumored status as an increasingly attractive contender as Trump’s vice-presidential nominee, according to a New York Times report published last week. The Times report, which cites three anonymous people close to Trump, says the now–convicted felon sees Cotton as disciplined and an effective communicator, and likes the fact that he served in the Army and is a fellow Ivy League graduate.

Another part of his apparent VP audition on Meet the Press this morning came when Cotton—who voted to certify the 2020 election results—said that, while he does not believe that Congress has the authority to reject electors certified by states, he’d only accept this year’s results “if it’s a fair and a free election.”

“Any candidate of any party has a perfect right to pursue legal remedies if they believe there’s been fraud or cheating in an election,” Cotton said. Trump and his allies, of course, made use of this right, filing more than 60 court cases challenging the results of the 2020 contest. All but one failed; the sole legal victory was on a technical matter in Pennsylvania, and would not have changed the election outcome in the state, where Biden won by more than 80,000 votes, according to USA Today.

Other rumored Trump VP contenders have played the same game as Cotton, publicly reversing their previously articulated positions to align with Trump’s, or walking back previous criticisms of him. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.)Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio)Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) have all gone on television and, in various ways, refused to commit to certifying this year’s election results no matter who wins—even though Scott and Rubio both voted to certify the 2020 results. (Vance was not yet in office in 2020, and has since said he would not have certified the results. Stefanik voted to overturn them.)

But for all his posturing, when this morning’s interview turned to talk about Trump’s VP shortlist, Cotton played coy. “I suspect only he knows who’s on his short list,” Cotton said of Trump. “I have not talked to the president or his campaign about his vice-presidential selection or any position in his administration.”

He added, “Any great patriot, if offered a chance to serve our country by the president, would have to consider it seriously.”

And any aspiring Trump VP, it appears, has to abandon their convictions and fall in line with the ex-president to be seriously considered for the job.

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