Why Presidential Pardons Are Normal, Trump’s Less So

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Why Presidential Pardons Are Normal, Trump’s Less So

It’s an act of presidential forgiveness rooted in Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution that wipes the slate clean for the recipient, even halting judicial proceedings that are under way. (A commutation, by contrast, makes a punishment milder without wiping out the underlying conviction.) Alexander Hamilton, explaining the purpose of pardons in Federalist Paper No. 74, said that the severity of a criminal code demands “an easy access to exceptions in favor of unfortunate guilt,” without which “justice would wear a countenance too sanguinary and cruel.”

2. Who has been pardoned by Trump?

Before commuting the sentence of political ally Roger Stone on Friday, Trump had issued 25 pardons and 10 commutations, several of them to politically connected convicts, often in response to outcry from fellow Republicans or from celebrities. Recipients included author Dinesh D’Sousa, who pleaded guilty in 2014 to using straw donors to evade campaign finance limits; I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney who was convicted in 2007 of perjury and obstructing justice; Joe Arpaio, the former Maricopa County, Arizona, sheriff who was found guilty of criminal contempt of court in 2016; former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat who was convicted of public corruption; financier Michael Milken, who was convicted of securities fraud; and former New York City police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, who was sentenced to four years in prison for failure to pay taxes and lying to White House officials.

3. How is Trump doing things differently?

Standard procedure for presidents is to let the Justice Department vet possible pardons and commutations. The website of the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney reads, “All requests for executive clemency for federal offenses are directed to the Pardon Attorney for investigation and review.” But most of Trump’s grants of clemency have gone to people who didn’t meet the office’s requirements or hadn’t even filed a request, the Washington Post reported in February. In the case of Trump’s first act of clemency, to Arpaio in August 2017, no such request was made, and regardless, the Justice Department’s guidelines say pardon requests shouldn’t be made until five years have passed after the completion of a sentence, or from the sentencing date if no confinement is ordered. Another recipient of a Trump pardon, David Safavian, who had served prison time for obstructing justice in the investigation of former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, said he hadn’t sought a pardon and that it came “out of the blue.”

4. Is Trump allowed to do that?

Yes. The president can grant a pardon “to any individual he deems fit, irrespective of whether an application has been filed with the Office of the Pardon Attorney” and at any time after the commission of an offense, the Congressional Research Service has written.

5. Who else is seeking pardons?

A lot of people, most of them not famous at all. There were 2,445 pending requests for pardons and 11,510 pending requests for commutations at the start of this fiscal year, according to the Justice Department.

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