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All the President’s Pardons

Infamous recipients of presidential clemency, and what their pardoned crimes tell us about Trump

The presidential pardon is an anachronistic remnant of monarchical times that, much like the Electoral College, has no place in the 21st century. It should be abolished.

Contrary to what some may argue, the pardon power does not act as an executive check on judicial decisions. As a matter of fact, the president can grant blanket pardons on all crimes that have been or may have been committed (Ford’s pardon of Nixon). The executive does not use such a pardon to override an abusive decision by the third branch of government. It is an obstructive act designed to prevent the administration of justice from even taking place.

Pardons can also be granted as rewards by a criminally corrupt president to his crooked abetters. In such a situation, a pardon becomes an incentive to act against the law and for the president. This has been demonstrated time and time over by Donald Trump.

Whether the Founding Fathers were naïve in their assessment of human nature or whether they didn’t want to limit their own presidential unknown is a question that will never be answered. What we do know, however, is that the founders clearly favoured drama over efficiency when it came to the functioning of government institutions.

On December 22, 2020, Donald Trump announced an unprecedented slew of pardons and commutations, 20 of them in a single day. Including war criminals (working for Betsy DeVos brother’s Blackwater mercenary company), corrupt former Representatives, and convicted members of Trump’s team (who pleaded guilty in the Mueller probe), this late Christmas pardon Lollapalooza is one more depraved abuse of power in Trump’s long list since he took office.

During his four years in office, Trump has pardoned 44 people, “only the best people” as he would undoubtedly quip. Here is a list of the most prominent names Trump has granted clemency to, lest we ever forget.

Joe Arpaio — Pardoned on August 25, 2017

The former sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona and an anti-illegal immigration hardliner, Arpaio was convicted of contempt of court and awaiting sentencing when he was pardoned for one contempt offence and for any not-yet-charged offences he may have committed in the same case.

In issuing the pardon, the White House cited Arpaio’s “more than fifty years of admirable service to” the United States. Here is the admirable sheriff in action:

“Scooter” Libby — Pardoned on April 13, 2018

An adviser to VP Dick Cheney, Libby was convicted in connection with the CIA leak scandal. Trump probably recognised himself in Libby, as the New York Times argued:

Mr. Libby, who goes by Scooter, was seen by his critics as an agent of a war built on false intelligence about weapons of mass destruction and by his friends as a scapegoat for a special prosecutor who was actually trying to bring down Mr. Cheney.

Dinesh D’Souza — Pardoned May 31, 2018

In 2014, conspiracy theorist and far-right provocateur Dinesh D’Souza pleaded guilty to making an illegal $20,000 campaign contribution to the 2012 NY State Senate campaign of his Republican friend, Wendy Long.

As David Graham of The Atlantic said in a BBC article:

As with so many of Trump’s manoeuvres, this is entirely within the legal bounds of his power but still largely outside the realm of propriety and precedent.

Michael Behenna — Pardoned on May 6, 2019

Convicted of the murder of an Iraqi prisoner (a war crime) by court-martial, Behenna was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Here is a description of the event by NPR:

Mansur was killed during questioning about a roadside explosion that had killed members of a platoon under Behenna’s command. […] Behenna acknowledged that he had decided to question Mansur on his own, weeks after the Iraqi was initially released because of a lack of direct evidence that could tie him to the explosion.

Mansur was naked when he was shot; Behenna said the prisoner had tried to take his weapon.

Conrad Black — Pardoned on May 15, 2019

You might not know or remember this one. Black, a British peer, former owner of the Daily Telegraph, and staunch supporter of Donald Trump had spent 3 years in prison for mail fraud and obstruction of justice.

He was pardoned one year after writing a biography of Trump, quoting the Guardian:

“Donald J Trump: A President Like No Other”, writing that Trump “is not, in fact, a racist, sexist, warmonger, hothead, promoter of violence, or a foreign or domestic economic warrior”. He suggested the president had been misunderstood.

Trump called Black personally to deliver the news that he was to receive a full presidential pardon, dubbing him “the great Lord Black”.

Mathew L. Golsteyn and Clint Lorance — Pardoned on November 15, 2019

Golsteyn was on trial for the premeditated murder of a suspected Afghan terrorist. Lorance had been convicted of two counts of murder by court-martial and sentenced to 19 years in prison. Both men were involved in war crimes committed during their service in Afghanistan.

Quoting USA Today:

Trump granted a pardon to Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, currently serving a 19-year sentence for ordering soldiers to fire on unarmed Afghan civilians, two of whom died. He also granted a pardon to Maj. Mathew Golsteyn, charged with killing suspected a bombmaker.

Trump has described the men as heroes operating in difficult circumstances and the cases became a cause celebre among conservatives. […]

“Some of these soldiers are people that have fought hard, long,” Trump told reporters earlier this year. “You know, we teach them how to be great fighters, and then when they fight, sometimes they get, really, treated very unfairly.”

Michael Milken — Pardoned on February 18, 2020

Michael Milken had been convicted of securities fraud, mail fraud, tax fraud, false reports to the SEC, and had served two years prison in the 90s. Also sentenced to a $200 million fine.

It was yet another case of Trump recognising himself in the “unjustly” convicted business magnate. As the New York Times put it:

By pardoning Michael R. Milken, a potent symbol of the “greed is good” 1980s and arguably the most significant white-collar criminal of his generation, President Trump has sent two powerful messages: When it comes to justice, money counts. And white-collar crime doesn’t really matter.

So much for the rule of law, already under siege by the Trump administration, and the notion that no one, no matter how rich or powerful, is above it.

Michael T. Flynn — Pardoned November 25, 2020

The Flynn pardon would require a book of its own. Flynn pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI and was awaiting sentencing when Trump pardoned him. Flynn was paid to represent Turkey during the 2016 Trump campaign, he discussed sanctions with Russian envoys, and seem to have served everybody’s interests but his own country’s.

George Papadopoulos & Alex van der Zwaan — Pardoned December 22, 2020

Papadopoulos was the first individual to be prosecuted in the Mueller probe and was sentenced to 14 days in prison for making false statements. Parallelly, Van der Zwaan was sentenced to 30 days in prison for making false statements in the Mueller probe. For their loyal behaviour, they were granted a pardon and seem happy about it:

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Four Blackwater guards — Pardoned on December 22, 2020

Keeping up with his tradition, Trump also pardoned four war criminals. In an unsurprising turn of events, the men worked for Blackwater, Eric Prince’s mercenary company. Do you know who Eric Prince sister is? Betsy DeVos. It’s a small, small world, we’re all living in!

Here is a description of their war crimes, per CNN:

After marathon deliberations, a federal jury found four ex-Blackwater Worldwide contractors guilty Wednesday in a deadly 2007 mass shooting in Baghdad’s Nusoor Square.

Nicholas Slatten, 30, of Sparta, Tennessee, the team’s sniper, was found guilty of first-degree murder while armed in the slaying of the river of a white Kia sedan in the Baghdad traffic circle. Prosecutors said Slatten kicked off the incident when he opened fire.

The other verdicts:

— Paul Slough, 35, of Keller, Texas, was found guilty of 13 counts of voluntary manslaughter, 17 counts of attempted manslaughter and one firearms offense;

— Evan Liberty, 32, of Rochester, New Hampshire, was found guilty of eight counts of voluntary manslaughter, 12 counts of attempted manslaughter and one firearms offense;

— Dustin Heard, 33, of Maryville, Tennessee, was found guilty of six counts of voluntary manslaughter, 11 counts of attempted manslaughter and one firearms offense.

This is but a shortlist of the people Trump has pardon, or whose sentences he has commuted. You can find the full list here. The pattern that emerges from it is striking, though. To obtain a pardon, one must either:

  1. Be a war criminal and commit said crimes against brown people;
  2. Be a loyal servant and lie to protect your master;
  3. Be a rich fraudster and remind Trump of his younger years.

Trump has abused his power to pardon and has forever tainted this anachronistic presidential prerogative that should be abolished. We can no longer hope on government officials acting in “good faith” and “self-regulating” themselves. We must put in place limitations to powers that are anti-democratic in nature and go against the will of the people, as expressed by jury verdicts.

Beyond the obvious kickbacks and the depraved political and ethical agenda, there might be another strategic purpose to Trump’s pardons, as tweeted by Lawrence O’Donnell:

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