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Interpreting Trump’s pardons

Andrew Cuomo

Tell Trump he’s got power and he’ll use it.

Washington sages thought that the crushing pressures, ingrained customs and the implied morality of his office would force Donald Trump to conform to traditional notions of presidential behavior. But the US President’s latest flurry of decrees shows that was a bad bet.

American presidents can pretty much pardon anyone, but traditionally reserve controversial uses of this power for the day they leave the Oval Office. And most have been loath to offer clemency in a way that suggests they’re meddling in an impartial justice system — a crucial cog of democratic society.

Not Trump. The President waved his wand Tuesday to commute the sentence of ex-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, and to pardon junk bond king Michael Milken and Rudy Giuliani crony Bernie Kerik. All had been convicted of corruption — a crime that the President seems to think lies in the eye of the beholder.

In isolation, such moves would suggest that a disregard for the law and tolerance for crime had taken root at the top of the US government. Right now, they appear even more sinister: Trump, unleashed by his escape in the impeachment saga, is asserting political control over the Justice Department.

These latest pardons may just be a warm up act. If Trump uses his power to rescue pals like Roger Stone and Paul Manafort — who were convicted in scandals swirling around his presidency — he’ll shatter a golden thread of judicial independence underpinning US political and economic strength for nearly 250 years.

Politicians, pardoned

How does Trump use his power of pardon when it comes to fellow politicians? Here’s a look back through the years.

Rod Blagojevich, former Illinois Governor

Convicted of corruption after trying to profit from a Senate appointment. Sentence commuted on Feb. 18..

Bernie Kerik, former New York police commissioner

Convicted of tax fraud and lying to officials, pardoned on Feb. 18.

Patrick James Nolan, former California state legislator

Convicted of racketeering related to campaign funding. Pardoned on May 15, 2019.

I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, former chief of staff to then-Vice President Dick Cheney

Convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in the investigation into leaking a CIA officer identity. Pardoned April 13, 2018.

Former Arizona sheriff Joseph M. Arpaio

Convicted of criminal contempt related to immigration enforcement. Pardoned August 25, 2017.

(Full list of pardons and commutations available here at the Department of Justice.)

Article Topic Follows: US & World

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