Presidential Pardons: The Long-Awaited Last “Immunities” of Donald Trump

A New York Times investigation has shed light on the influence struggles that punctuate the final hours of Donald Trump’s presidency. He could pardon dozens of relatives before Wednesday.

Donald Trump in August 2018 at the White House
Donald Trump in August 2018 at the White House

Joe Arpaio becomes the first American to receive President Trump’s pardon. Seven months after his arrival at the White House, the Republican billionaire cancels the sentence of this Arizona sheriff, just sentenced for his discriminatory and systematic hunt for Hispanic populations. At the time, the opposition feared the trivialization of this unilateral practice which does not open the door to any recourse.

In the end, Donald Trump will be, barring a huge surprise, the American head of state to have used it the least in modern history. Two days from the end of his mandate, he has 70 pardons (“pardons”) and 24 reductions in a sentence (“commutations”) to his credit. It is more than half as much per year as Bill Clinton (1993-2001) in terms of graces, and eight times less than Jimmy Carter (1977-1981).

The weakness of this practice reveals in the hollow the conception of the power of the one who always refuses his defeat against Joe Biden. The real estate mogul has made it a tool in the service of his personal interests rather than in the name of “mercy” and “public good” as formulated by the founders of the nation. “Donald Trump has hijacked the presidential pardon: while it is supposed to right a wrong, he uses it as an immunity. We saw it when he pardoned people involved in the Russian affair, ”analyzes Jean-Eric Branaa, lecturer in political science at Paris II-Assas.

Thousands of Dollars to Lobby

These last hours of the presidency should thus encourage him to multiply the marks of clemency. CNN expects nearly a hundred names to be affected. “White-collar criminals, high-level rappers and others but – for now – not Donald Trump himself”, estimated the television channel on Sunday evening.

At the same time, the New York Times was spotlighting the intense influence struggles underway in the corridors of the White House. A lobbyist by the name of Brett Tolman, a former federal prosecutor specializing in leniency cases, is said to have raised tens of thousands of dollars in an attempt to launder, pell-mell, the son of a former senator from Arkansas, the founder from the famous Silk Road online drug market or a Manhattan mogul who pleaded guilty in a fraud case. Ex personal Lawyer of Donald Trump (John M. Dowd) or one of his former campaign advisers in 2016 (Karen Giorno) is also cited. Note, however, that these attempts at pressure are not illegal as long as Donald Trump does not directly touch money.

“Crooked people who, in Trump’s entourage, say I know him and ask for money to negotiate their presidential pardon, yes there must be”, comments Jean-Eric Branaa, not really surprised.

41 people pardoned on December 22 and 23

Almost 90% of Trump’s pardons so far have targeted people with ties to his political, economic or friendly circle. Before the Christmas holidays, he erased the convictions and sanctions of 41 people in 48 hours. Or more than in four years. Among them, we find the father of his son-in-law and adviser Charles Kushner, key figures worried by the investigation into Moscow’s interference during the 2016 campaign (Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, George Papadopoulos …) or even four ex-agents of the sulphurous private security company Blackwater. The latter was guilty of the murder in Baghdad of 14 Iraqi citizens in 2007.

The opposite example of Barack Obama (2008-2016) comes up frequently. After several years of decline, sentence reduction had rebounded sharply. The Democratic president has chosen to “launder” several thousand of his fellow citizens, most of them punished in drug cases. “Obama used the right of pardon as an instrument of reform, where he could not obtain a law of Congress reversing the war on drugs and systematic prison sentences”, recently recalled in our columns Anne Deysine, legal specialist the United States.