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Could Ghislaine Maxwell be next to receive a presidential pardon from Donald Trump?

Given he has all but given up any pretence of governing – the day before Christmas he was pictured on the golf course, even as the White House insisted he was “working tirelessly” – the president appears focused on two things.

One is to somehow overturn the result of the election he lost to Joe Biden, an increasingly joyless endeavour, and which would require the Senate not to ratify the electoral college when it meets on 6 January.

The second is to try and make use of his remaining days as president to try and settle scores, repay favours and generally cause mayhem.

The decision to pardon Flynn, his one-time national security advisor, had long been anticipated, given Mr Trump’s strength of feeling that he has been poorly treated.

Those who follow such matters point out that previous presidents have waited until their final days before announcing their most controversial pardons.

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Bill Clinton, who issued a total of 450 pardons, issued a third of them on his final day as president – 20 January 2001. Among the most controversial were Marc Rich, a financier who had made large donations to Mr Clinton, and his half-bother Robert Clinton, who had served a 10-year jail term a decade earlier for drugs offences. He also pardoned Patty Hearst.

Barack Obama issued 1,385 commutations and 212 pardons. Among the most noteworthy was the commutation handed to Chelsea Manning, for leaking material to Wikileaks, which Mr Obama announced in his final week as president.

Richard Nixon in 1971 ordered the release of Lt William Calley, the only person convicted in connection over the 1968 massacre at My Lai.

If Mr Trump wanted to go out with a bang, pardoning Ms Maxwell would certainly fit the bill. The 58-year-old British-born socialite is charged with trafficking young woman and girls for her sometime partner Epstein, who killed himself in 2019 while in prison awaiting trial. She has pleaded not guilty and denied any wrongdoing.

While such a move would trigger outcry, it is not entirely inconceivable. This summer, after she was arrested, Mr Trump spoke of her in terms that struck many as inappropriate.

“I’ve met her numerous times over the years, especially since I lived in Palm Beach, and I guess they lived in Palm Beach,” he told reporters at a coronavirus briefing. “But I wish her well, whatever it is.”

He was later questioned about this when he appeared in a televised interview for Axios. 

“Yeah, I wish her well. I’d wish you well. I’d wish a lot of people well. Good luck. Let them prove somebody was guilty.”

If Mr Trump wanted to anger the intelligence and national security establishment, he could also issue pardons to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who is currently fighting extradition to the US where he could be jailed for up to 175 years if convicted, or former CIA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden, who fled to Russia.

Mr Assange’s partner, Stella Morris, who is also the mother of his two children, has urged Mr Trump to set him free. She recently tweeted: “I beg you, please bring him home for Christmas.”