Pardon Me?

Originally posted on July 12, 2020

As part of my research into the Roger Stone pardon I chanced upon a more complete listing of Trump’s pardons. In what should be no surprise, Trump’s use of his pardoning powers has been unprecedented for at least three reasons.

The first of these is the relatively few pardons he has (at least, so far) given – a total of 36. Obama gave 963, Bush 100, and Clinton 229. You’d have to go back to Washington and Adams to find presidents who have given fewer. Perhaps on his last day in office he’ll issue some more.

The second is that all other presidents have generally gone through the Department of Justice’s Pardon Attorney, who reviews cases and makes recommendations. The president isn’t required to do so – his power to pardon or commute is absolute and guaranteed by the constitution. Exceptions tend to be controversial though, like Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich. Of Trumps’ 36 pardons/commutations, only 5 have apparently gone through this office, and all 5 of them were done on the same day. No other president has a ratio even close to this low.

Third, and in what should be no surprise, the remaining 31 of Trumps pardons/commutations, the ones not reviewed by the pardon attorney, involve people who had some connection to Trump himself or to his sense of self-importance. In the listing referenced above they used the following 4 criteria:

  • Did it advance a clear political goal of the president?
  • Did the person who was pardoned have a personal connection to Trump or someone Trump knows well?
  • Was the person who was pardoned brought to the President’s attention by television or a television commentator?
  • Was the pardon based on Trump’s admiration for celebrity?

They also referenced a chart that details all 36. Here’s a pdf backup.

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