Pardon me! Trump obsesses on his new favorite mania
When it comes to pardons and other acts of clemency, Donald Trump is at seven and counting. But by all accounts, he’s just getting started with his new hobby.
Trump’s latest action is actually good news — Trump commuted the sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old great-grandmother who received a life sentence after a 1996 conviction for a first-time, nonviolent drug-related offense. (Johnson served 21 years of her sentence.) That’s two good moves, the other being the posthumous pardon for African American boxer Jack Johnson. He served 10 months in prison for a 1913 conviction of violating a Jim Crow law of transporting a white woman across state lines.
Others on the complete clemency list from Newsweek don’t pass the smell test, unless you’re considering how Trump is issuing pardons or commuting sentences for the same kinds of crimes that Trump cronies could be charged with in the investigation of ties between Russia and the Trump campaign by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Joe Arpaio, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, and Dinesh D’Souza all committed crimes against the government, and they didn’t even need Trump’s “Get Out of Jail Free” cards. Arpaio, the Arizona sheriff who gained notoriety for (among other things) housing and humiliating prisoners in an outdoor Tent City in Arizona heat, was found guilty of criminal contempt for continuing to racially profile Latinos in violation of a court order that told him to stop. He never spent a day in jail. Libby, Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, outed a covert CIA agent, but his sentence already had been commuted by George W. Bush, so he never spent a day behind bars, either. D’Souza, the conservative commentator and filmmaker who pleaded guilty to making illegal campaign donations, received probation and community service.
A lesser-known pardon from Trump was for Kristian Saucier, who was convicted of taking photos of classified areas inside a submarine in 2009 while he served in the Navy (care about national security much?). He pleaded guilty in 2016. Another lucky winner was Sholom Rubashkin, the executive of a kosher meatpacking company in Iowa who was convicted of money laundering in 2009. He “sent banks fake invoices to make his company seem more lucrative than it was, therefore allowing him to borrow more money,” according to the Newsweek story. He was sentenced to 27 years and had served eight before Trump commuted his sentence.
These other beneficiaries of Trump’s favors do not exactly represent the best of America. But those currently under Robert Mueller’s magnifying glass are getting Trump’s message loud and clear — don’t turn on me, and I may save you.
Trump is reportedly “fixated” with exercising his pardon powers, according to many reports that quote anonymous White House sources, including this story from The Washington Post:
A White House official who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity said Trump is “obsessed” with pardons, describing them as the president’s new “favorite thing” to talk about. He may sign a dozen or more in the next two months, this person added.
“It’s all part of the show,” said veteran Republican consultant Ed Rollins, a former strategist for a pro-Trump super PAC. “It’s not a rational or traditional process but about celebrity or who they know, or who he sees on ‘Fox & Friends.’ He’s sending the message, ‘I can do whatever I want, and I could certainly pardon someone down the line on the Russia probe.’ ” …
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, a Trump ally, said the implications for the special counsel investigation are obvious: a sign to witnesses and others tangled in the probe that “help is on the way.”
“If you’re being squeezed by Mueller, [the president is] sending a signal that he’s in an all-out war with Mueller and people should know [he] is willing to issue pardons,” Gingrich said.
The U.S. Constitution gives presidents the authority to grant pardons without any oversight or interference from any other branch of government. In a normal administration, requests for pardons go through the Office of the Pardon Attorney in the Department of Justice. (Of course, that office has only an acting head, Larry Kupers, senior counsel in the office since 2014. It’s just one of the many offices that Trump hasn’t bothered to nominate anyone for or that people have been fleeing in droves.) Another Washington Post analysis describes what usually happens when people apply to that office for clemency: There is a review process, a 28-page form to fill out, interviews with character witnesses, and background checks.
Not for the Orange Pardoner. He picks up ideas from (where else?) watching Fox News or meeting with esteemed legal scholar Kim Kardashian West, who championed Alice Johnson’s cause in an Oval Office meeting with Trump that was arranged by Jared Kushner.
Trump can check his old guest lists from The Apprentice to see who needs a little legal help, such as cooking and decorating maven Martha Stewart, who served five months in prison after her conviction on charges of obstruction of justice and lying to investigators, or disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was convicted on multiple corruption charges for trying to sell Barack Obama’s Senate seat and is currently serving a 14-year sentence.
The Post analysis offers a new Trumpian flowchart for pardon requests, with these questions:
- Are you a darling of conservative politics?
- Are you a celebrity?
- Do you know a celebrity?
- Can you get on Fox News anyway?
- Do you have any friends who are friends with Trump?
- Have you been indicted by Robert Mueller?
Trump’s “latest discovery is how his pardon power can be a big news-cycle hit, especially when a celebrity is blended in,” wrote columnist E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post.
Of course, there are lots of other people in prison who need pardons or at least need their sentences commuted. According to a 2013 report by the American Civil Liberties Union, there are over 3,200 people serving life sentences without the possibility of parole for convictions of nonviolent crimes, mostly through mandatory minimum sentences. Sometimes the offenses were for crimes as simple as possessing a crack pipe, sharing several grams of LSD with Grateful Dead concertgoers or selling a single rock of crack.
“About 79 percent of the 3,278 prisoners serving life without parole were sentenced to die in prison for nonviolent drug crimes,” the report said. Roughly 65 percent of these prisoners are African American. Many had mental illnesses or drug addictions, or were in severe financial straits when they committed these crimes, such as the man who sold methamphetamine to pay for a bone marrow transplant for his son. If these sentences were commuted, the report estimates, the savings for U.S. taxpayers who wouldn’t have to foot the bill for these prison housing costs would be $1.784 billion.
That’s a lot of people receiving obviously lopsided punishment for nonviolent offenses, and that’s a lot of money being spent to house them all. Alice Johnson fell into that category and shared her thoughts about her imprisonment in a CNN opinion piece.
On his final day in office, President Barack Obama issued 330 sentence commutations to nonviolent drug offenders, bringing the clemency total for his two terms in office to 1,715, including commutations to 568 inmates with life sentences. Maybe someone on Trump’s crack legal team should explore the possibility of issuing pardons or commuting sentences for prisoners in that category.
HA! Just kidding. Trump doesn’t care about any of them. Except when a celebrity like Kim Kardashian West argues their case.
Originally posted on Daily Kos on June 10, 2018.