“When Joe Biden took office, he inherited the largest backlog of unresolved clemency cases in U.S. history: 14,000 people waiting to find out if their convictions would be erased or sentences reduced, or if they’d get any answer at all.”
“In most cases, Trump bypassed the lengthy, multilevel process for clemency that has been conducted for more than a century. Instead, he made decisions through an ad hoc system where politically connected allies and well-paid lobbyists tried to persuade him in person and on TV to use pardons to help friends and hurt enemies.
In total, Trump granted 237 pardons or commutations and denied 180 cases. Many of those he acted on were headline-grabbing: former members of Congress, numerous people convicted in Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia’s 2016 election interference, and security contractors convicted for massacring Iraqi civilians in 2008. He failed to act on thousands of other cases, leaving 13,750 behind for Biden.
But the current backlog — the largest on record, according to the Justice Department and experts — can’t be blamed on Trump alone.
Barack Obama waited well into his second term to act. When he urged federal prisoners to apply for leniency under his clemency initiative, which allowed certain inmates to make their case for getting their sentences commuted, petitions soared. He received more than 36,000 requests, the largest total of any president on record. And he acted on an historic amount — more than 22,000 cases — granting clemency 1,927 times, including 212 pardons and 1,715 commutations.
But Obama didn’t take care of all the pending cases, leaving behind 13,000 of them when he left office. And when his final pardon attorney, Deborah Leff, resigned in January of Obama’s final year in office, she lamented that the clemency initiative didn’t have enough resources.
“In his clemency initiative, President Obama focused significant resources on identifying inmates, most of them people of color, who had been sentenced to excessive and draconian sentences,” said Neil Eggleston, who served as White House counsel for Obama. “The president would have liked to clear the backlog in pending petitions, but resources spent in achieving that goal would have resulted in fewer inmates who were serving those excessive sentences for relatively minor drug crimes being released.””
“President Trump has ended his term in office in a very appropriate way for him — by handing out pardons to some of his close associates and supporters for corruption crimes.
Perhaps the most notable of these pardons was the one given to Steve Bannon, Trump’s former campaign CEO and White House chief strategist, announced late Tuesday night. Bannon was awaiting trial on fraud charges — specifically, he was charged with defrauding donors to a crowdfunding campaign promising to build a wall on the US-Mexico border. Yes, that means Trump pardoned Bannon for allegedly defrauding Trump’s own supporters.
The clemency grant list released by the White House early Wednesday morning also included Elliott Broidy, a wealthy Republican donor, lobbyist, and former RNC finance committee member who had pleaded guilty to violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act in October. It included three former Republican members of Congress and a former Democratic mayor of Detroit, all of whom were charged with corruption crimes. Celebrity rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black also made the cut, as did dozens of lesser-known people (including some who seem to have genuinely deserved clemency).
Trump has now pardoned two of his campaign chiefs (the other being Paul Manafort), in addition to his first national security adviser (Michael Flynn), his longtime political guru (Roger Stone), and the first two members of Congress to endorse his 2016 campaign (former Reps. Chris Collins and Duncan Hunter).
In recent months, Trump considered going even further — he mused about offering “preemptive pardons” to people who haven’t even been charged with crimes, like his attorney Rudy Giuliani and several of his children, as well as a dubiously legal “self-pardon.”
These haven’t materialized. The big picture, though, is that Trump has brazenly used the pardon power to shield his associates from consequences for criminal wrongdoing in a way no president has for decades.”
“a flurry of pardons and commutations — largely to a mix of political cronies and allies, from people caught in former special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation to corrupt ex-members of Congress.”
“The president has used his pardon powers to the benefit of political allies before. He recently pardoned his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Prior to that, Trump granted reprieves to adviser Roger Stone and former Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who endorsed and campaigned for Trump.
Harvard professor Jack Goldsmith estimated 88 percent of Trump’s pardons and commutations have gone to people with personal or political ties to Trump. The latest pardons “continue Trump’s unprecedented pattern of issuing self-serving pardons and commutations that advance his personal interests, reward friends, seek retribution against enemies, or gratify political constituencies,” Goldsmith told the Times.”
“Past presidents have also used their pardon powers for friends and allies. Former President Bill Clinton triggered controversy when he issued more than 100 pardons on his last day in office, including to his half-brother and to Marc Rich, whose ex-wife was a Clinton donor.
These longstanding problems have led some activists to call for reform of the pardon process, fashioning it to be less a tool of political and personal favors and instead a means to criminal justice reform.”
“As with the Justice Department’s unprecedented attempt to dismiss charges against former national security adviser Michael Flynn after he pleaded guilty in open court to making false statements to the FBI, Stone’s pardon is a case of the Trump administration citing legitimate problems with the criminal justice system for nakedly cynical and self-serving ends. The Justice Department did not care about excessive sentencing or unfair prosecutions before. It does not care about them now, and it will not care about them when they’re used again to railroad defendants who aren’t Trump’s allies.
This isn’t the first time the Trump administration has stepped in to protect Stone. A federal grand jury indicted Stone last January on seven counts of obstruction of justice, false statements, and witness tampering stemming from Special Prosecutor Roger Mueller’s probe of Russian interference into the 2016 presidential election. Stone was convicted on all counts in November.
Federal prosecutors originally recommended a seven- to nine-year prison sentence for Stone, prompting Trump to fume on Twitter that this was “horrible and very unfair.” A day later, the Justice Department overrode the line prosecutors’ recommendations—an almost unheard of event—saying Stone deserved a far lighter sentence.”
“Stone, a longtime Republican operative, was convicted in November 2019 for obstructing a congressional investigation, lying to Congress, and witness tampering in a trial that stemmed from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. On February 20, Stone was sentenced to 40 months in prison.
Trump’s commutation landed just days before Stone was expected to report to prison on July 14.
The commutation stops short of a full pardon. The conviction will remain on Stone’s record — for now, at least. But the Trump ally won’t have to serve his approximately three-year prison term.”