The worst of Trump's pardons

Article Image

President Donald Trump issued a raft of pardons and commutations on the last morning of his presidency. The list includes his onetime political strategist, a former top fundraiser and two well-known rappers. CNN's Joe Johns reports.

Posted: Jan 20, 2021 11:20 AM
Updated: Jan 20, 2021 11:20 AM

In his final full day in office, President Donald Trump refrained from the most outrageous possible abuses of the pardon power. Perhaps wary of causing political backlash, given his impending Senate impeachment trial, Trump has not pardoned himself, his children or his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

But make no mistake: With his final batch of 73 pardons and 70 sentence commutations, Trump offered up one last burst of cronyism and self-dealing. While Trump issued pardons to several recipients whose cases had been rightly advocated by criminal justice reform groups, he also doled out free passes to an unseemly lineup of criminals who apparently have been granted mercy based largely on their personal connections to Trump, their wealth and access or their status as celebrity objects of fascination.

This is, needless to say, not how pardons are supposed to work. The best way to understand Trump's abuse of the pardon power is by comparing his actions to those of his immediate predecessors. President Barack Obama issued far more pardons and commutations than Trump has. But the vast majority of Obama's grants of leniency went to nonviolent drug offenders who had received harsh prison sentences and to whom Obama had no personal or political connections -- while Trump's pardons have gone largely to his own political and personal allies and other well-connected recipients.

President George W. Bush wrote that he was taken aback by the last-minute blitz of pardon requests from well-connected individuals during his final days in office. Bush resolved not to grant any such requests but rather to consider only those pardon applications that had been vetted by the Justice Department's Office of the Pardon Attorney (who traditionally provides nonbinding guidance to the President to ensure that pardons are properly vetted and equitable). In contrast, Trump has largely ignored the pardon attorney.

Here's a rundown of the most odious of the pardons and commutations that Trump granted in his final hours, in his own version of Pardongate:

Steve Bannon. Bannon brazenly ripped off Trump's own most ardent followers who donated to a scam called "We Build the Wall," federal prosecutors said. Bannon allegedly defrauded donors of hundreds of thousands of dollars they'd given to that fund and used the money for his own lavish personal lifestyle. Now, Trump has let Bannon off the hook, while hanging his own most fervent supporters out to dry.

Elliott Broidy. The former Republican Party and Trump fundraiser pleaded guilty to secretly lobbying the US government on behalf of Chinese and Malaysian interests. The Justice Department previously had declared that Broidy's conduct "poses a serious threat to our national security and undermines the integrity of our democracy." He, too, gets a free pass.

Kwame Kilpatrick. The infamously corrupt former mayor of Detroit had his sentence commuted by the President because, according to the White House news release, he "has taught public speaking classes and has led Bible Study groups with his fellow inmates." That's it. That's the entire rationale.

Paul Erickson. Convicted of wire fraud and money laundering as an offshoot of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, Erickson received a pardon seemingly solely because his case had some connection to Mueller. The White House news release focuses not on Erickson's conduct ("a minor financial crime," it said) but solely on the specious and overwrought claim that this "pardon helps right the wrongs of what has been revealed to be perhaps the greatest witch hunt in American History."

The closest comparison for Trump's endgame pardon blitz happened on President Bill Clinton's last day in office in January 2001, when Clinton doled out over 130 pardons to a group that included his personal and political allies, political donors and his own half-brother. Clinton's actions became known as Pardongate and prompted a federal criminal investigation (which did not result in charges). We'll see if Trump's closing flurry of pardons will bring a similar response.

Now, your questions:

Gary (New Mexico): Can the Senate hold an impeachment trial after the president leaves office on January 20?

Yes. There is historical precedent for impeaching and trying a federal official after he has left office. On March 2, 1876, Secretary of War William Belknap resigned under political pressure. Later that day, the House impeached Belknap. Then, in August 1876, the Senate held Belknap's impeachment trial (and ultimately acquitted him).

Common sense leads to the same result. Article I of the Constitution permits Congress to disqualify an officer from holding future office. What happens, then, if a president commits an egregious act on his last full day in office, January 19? There would not be time to impeach and formally try and convict that president before he leaves office at noon the next day. So, the only practical way to effectuate the Constitution's disqualification provision is by holding impeachment proceedings after the president has left office.

Jack (Michigan): Can the President still issue pardons, even now that he has been impeached?

Yes, but the confusion here is understandable. Article II of the Constitution provides that the President "shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment." The language here is ambiguous. Read one way, it could appear to say that after the President is impeached by the House, he loses the power to issue pardons. But read another way, it says that the President can issue pardons for criminal offenses but not for impeachment.

The latter reading is correct. There is no provision anywhere in the Constitution, statutes or case law that strips a President of any power solely upon impeachment by the House (though, of course, if convicted in the Senate, the President loses the office and all of its powers).

It would be anomalous for the President to lose only one power -- the power to pardon -- upon impeachment alone. Indeed, all three Presidents who have been impeached -- Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton and Trump (the first time) -- issued many pardons after their impeachments.

Rather, the clause in Article II means that while a President can pardon an official (or any person) for a crime, he cannot pardon an official out of impeachment. In other words, the President does not have power to un-impeach.

Lafayette
Clear
45° wxIcon
Hi: 49° Lo: 37°
Feels Like: 38°
Kokomo
Partly Cloudy
40° wxIcon
Hi: 46° Lo: 34°
Feels Like: 32°
Rensselaer
Partly Cloudy
37° wxIcon
Hi: 43° Lo: 34°
Feels Like: 29°
Lafayette
Partly Cloudy
45° wxIcon
Hi: 43° Lo: 37°
Feels Like: 38°
Danville
Partly Cloudy
48° wxIcon
Hi: 49° Lo: 39°
Feels Like: 42°
Frankfort
Clear
41° wxIcon
Hi: 49° Lo: 37°
Feels Like: 34°
Frankfort
Clear
41° wxIcon
Hi: 45° Lo: 33°
Feels Like: 34°
Monticello
Partly Cloudy
39° wxIcon
Hi: 46° Lo: 35°
Feels Like: 32°
Monticello
Partly Cloudy
39° wxIcon
Hi: 46° Lo: 35°
Feels Like: 32°
Logansport
Partly Cloudy
36° wxIcon
Hi: 44° Lo: 33°
Feels Like: 29°
Mild Conditions Continue Wednesday
WLFI Radar
WLFI Temps
WLFI Planner

WLFI is promoting fire safety with FREE smoke detectors

 WLFI and several local fire departments are helping with your fire safety this winter. CLICK HERE. 

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 657037

Reported Deaths: 12450
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion901321624
Lake48105871
Allen35552632
Hamilton31839393
St. Joseph29538510
Elkhart25261412
Vanderburgh21115377
Tippecanoe19765197
Johnson16242352
Porter15838267
Hendricks15723296
Clark11843179
Madison11672314
Vigo11503228
Monroe10248158
Delaware9788178
LaPorte9720194
Howard9017194
Kosciusko8514107
Bartholomew7373147
Warrick7369146
Hancock7362128
Floyd7139164
Wayne6586188
Grant6395157
Morgan6040124
Boone603388
Dubois5868111
Dearborn540266
Henry539492
Marshall5390104
Cass537199
Noble506775
Jackson462063
Shelby458490
Lawrence4154111
Gibson399681
Harrison395160
Clinton392353
DeKalb382078
Montgomery381583
Knox354484
Miami354063
Whitley346235
Huntington338176
Steuben335955
Wabash328775
Putnam325959
Ripley325161
Adams320249
Jasper312943
White295351
Jefferson292770
Daviess284296
Fayette270255
Decatur269388
Greene259978
Posey259731
Wells255374
Scott248446
LaGrange240170
Clay238944
Randolph225076
Spencer215830
Jennings213544
Washington207727
Sullivan202038
Fountain200341
Starke185950
Owen181652
Jay177328
Fulton176437
Carroll175618
Perry172435
Orange170450
Rush163922
Franklin158335
Vermillion158040
Tipton145441
Parke137915
Pike127232
Blackford120027
Pulaski105643
Newton96431
Brown94639
Benton91113
Crawford90113
Martin80114
Switzerland7507
Warren74612
Union66810
Ohio52711
Unassigned0425

COVID-19 Important links and resources

As the spread of COVID-19, or as it's more commonly known as the coronavirus continues, this page will serve as your one-stop for the resources you need to stay informed and to keep you and your family safe. CLICK HERE

Closings related to the prevention of the COVID-19 can be found on our Closings page.

Community Events