For a man who professes to stand for ‘law and order,’ President Donald Trump has an odd way of applying equal justice under the law.
Let’s establish that President Donald Trump is well within his constitutional authority to issue commutations, which reduce a prison sentence but do not eliminate the conviction, and pardons, which is an expression of presidential forgiveness.
So his decision last week to commute the 40-month prison sentence given to his longtime friend and former campaign adviser Roger Stone was constitutionally legitimate. But as the conservative National Review wrote, Trump’s handling of the Stone case is “indefensible (and) another indication of his perverse, highly personalized view of the criminal-justice system.”
Stone, a political buffoon who was convicted by a federal jury of seven crimes, including witness tampering and obstructing a congressional investigation into whether Russia influenced the 2016 election, was to have gone to prison this week. Thanks to Trump, though, Stone is a free man, although as former special counsel Robert Mueller noted almost immediately, he’s still a convicted felon.
He’s also a convicted felon in a special constellation of loathsome friends and stars given clemency by the president, among them former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who tried to shake down the head of a children’s hospital; Conrad Black, the former Chicago Sun-Times owner who pocketed proceeds from the sale of the paper that were supposed to go to investors of Hollinger International Inc.; and Joe Arpaio, the Arizona sheriff who defied a court order to stop detaining people suspected of being undocumented immigrants.
Jack Goldsmith, a professor at Harvard Law School and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, counted up 36 commutations or pardons issued so far by Trump. Thirty-one have gone to what he said were personal or political pals of the president.
Goldsmith noted that other presidents have given what could be described as self-serving commutations or pardons.
“But no president in American history comes close to matching Trump’s systematically self-serving use of the pardon power,” Goldsmith concluded.
Further, he found that Trump circumvented the Justice Department’s pardon attorney on 31 of his pardons/commutations. The pardon attorney, an office that has existed for 125 years, examines each request for pardons or commutations and prepares a recommendation for the president.
The pardon attorney is in place to provide a rigorous process between the president and requests for pardons in order to guard against any suggestion that pardons are political. Bypassing that process in most cases, Trump leaves a powerful impression that his awards of clemency are all about politics.
Trump promised to “drain the swamp” as president. No one knew that meant he would drain the prisons of rightly convicted political pals.