On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving 2020, lame-duck President Donald Trump wasn't the only bird in the White House. On Tuesday Nov. 24, the president continued the long-standing tradition of pardoning a turkey during a White House ceremony, with first lady Melania Trump standing closely by. But coming close on the heels of Trump's loss in the 2020 presidential election, people had a lot of jokes. These tweets about the 2020 turkey pardoning all riffed on the possibility that Trump may choose to pardon himself instead of the bird.
The 2020 version of the traditional White House event took place in the midst of a global pandemic that has already claimed the lives of nearly 258,000 Americans as of Nov. 24, per The New York Times. Nevertheless. Trump took the stage to pardon one of two turkeys, Corn and Cob. "We are here today to continue a beloved annual tradition: the official presidential pardon of a very very fortunate turkey," Trump said at the start of the event. "These two magnificent gobblers were selected from the official presidential flock of 30 turkeys. Some real beauties," he added.
Although the ceremony is took place outdoors at the Rose Garden, large gatherings still pose a heightened risk — meaning the White House will have to take special precautions to ensure proper health and safety guidelines are followed. The first family, along with other White House friends and staff, were in attendance.
The annual event was ripe for jokes this year, given the likely legal trouble facing Trump once he leaves office on Jan. 20. The president has been the subject of multiple ongoing financial investigations, and has dealt with allegations of campaign misconduct — all of which his campaign has denied — as well as personal accusations of sexual misconduct from multiple women, which he has also repeatedly denied. While as of Nov. 24 Trump has not been charged with any crimes, once he leaves the White House he will lose the immunity from prosecution that the president enjoys — making it possible, and even likely, that he may end up in court.
People on Twitter seem to be well aware of this possibility, and many users couldn't help but make jokes about the president's potential efforts to use his presidential pardoning powers on more than just turkeys.
Despite all the jokes, it's unlikely that Trump could pardon himself of any alleged crimes. According to the Office of Legal Council (OLC), part of the U.S. Department of Justice, the President cannot pardon himself "under the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case." Even if he receives a pardon from incoming President-elect Joe Biden, this would only prevent him from facing federal charges, not state charges — notably leaving him vulnerable to indictment in the state of New York, the site of many of his business dealings.
The 2020 event is Trump's last presidential turkey pardon, but who knows if it'll be his last pardon overall? With just about two months left in office, anything is possible.