Is Trump right to issue nearly 100 pardons on his last day?
- The Constitution states in Article II, Section 2 that the president “shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.”
- A full pardon forgives a criminal after they have shown good behavior and accepted their conviction. However, “a pardon does not signify innocence” like exoneration. Commutations are partial pardons and do not remove civil disabilities like full pardons.
- As of Monday January 18, President Trump is creating a list of around 100 pardons before he leaves office on Wednesday. The list might include Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder, Edward Snowden, who leaked NSA surveillance, and rapper Lil Wayne. Trump’s entire presidential pardon grants from 2016 to 2020 are available to the public.
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt granted the most pardons of any president totaling up to 2,819, largely because he was in office for four terms. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, granted 212 pardons. President Trump has granted clemency to 94 people.
President Trump is right to issue as many pardons as he deems prudent on his last day in office. Article II Section 2 of the Constitution grants the President the power to issue pardons and commute sentences, and it places no restrictions on when this power may be exercised during a President's term in office. The justice system isn't always equitable, and sometimes the punishments don't fit the crime, or there are legitimate questions about whether the verdict was correctly decided. In these cases, a Presidential pardon or commutation is an appropriate remedy to show mercy and restore equity to the system.
However, it's noteworthy that no President has been as sparing in his use of his pardon power as has President Trump. On a percentage basis of total requests for pardons or commutations, President Trump has granted less than one-half of one percent of them, which is ten times fewer than his predecessor President Obama. Moreover, it's by far the lowest percentage of any President in the past 120 years.
President Trump has suffered through four years of relentlessly negative media coverage and unending Congressional investigations of wrongdoing by his administration members. A Media Research Center study determined that 91% of President Trump's broadcast media coverage since 2016 has been negative. In August of last year, a former FBI attorney pled guilty to altering an email to illegally obtain a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to conduct surveillance on Trump campaign officials. President Trump is correct to use his pardon power to remedy injustices as he sees fit and to right the partisan wrongs that plagued his term in office, which other presidents have not faced.
The power of the Presidential pardon is intended to show forgiveness oftentimes in light of a life well-lived following crime and punishment; it does not exist to simply let friends and cronies off the hook for their bad behavior. CNN reports many of the criminals Donald Trump intends to pardon have shown little remorse or contrition. He is, therefore, wrong to pardon these dangerous individuals. Donald Trump had shown an understanding of the pardon's purpose when he posthumously pardoned Muhammad Ali in 2018 for refusing to serve during the Vietnam War. Ali committed a relatively victimless crime and served time in jail for it. As something of a national treasure, it makes sense for the President to pardon him. Some of the criminals making President Trump's pardon list include Dr. Salomon Melgen, currently serving time for many counts of healthcare fraud, as well as well-known rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black, who are each serving time for weapon-related charges. These are simply not the kinds of people for which the presidential pardon was intended.
Like nearly everything he has done during his presidency, President Trump is working outside of normal channels in his pardon process. He has reportedly been avoiding the Department of Justice protocols, favoring personal contact. This is most likely because the President will be pardoning people he thinks might be helpful after he leaves office. An anonymous source within the White House told CNN, 'Everything is a transaction. He likes pardons because it is unilateral. And he likes doing favors for people he thinks will owe him.' Clearly, President Trump is using this power to set himself up for the future.