Pardon my pardon
By Jim Coogan
Donald Trump’s newly discovered power of the presidential pardon has produced some interesting consequences. This authority, listed in Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution holds a whole lot of potential for our chief executive. Recently Trump pardoned Scooter Libby an aide to former Vice President Dick Cheney. Libby was convicted of obstruction of justice lying about revealing the identity of a CIA undercover agent. A few months ago he pardoned Phoenix, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpiao who had been convicted of defying a court order to stop profiling illegal immigrants. Because Arpiao was an early supporter of Trump, he got a reprieve from the president. Clear and simple, Trump used the presidential pardon in this case as a political tool to court the anti-immigration block of voters in Arizona.
I doubt that Trump ever heard of black boxer Jack Johnson, a man convicted of violating the Mann Act in 1913 when he took a white woman across state lines. President Obama didn’t pardon Johnson when he could have. But as a means of tossing a symbolic bone to black voters, Trump pardoned Johnson yesterday in a clear move to draw some African American voters into his camp. Ironically, Johnson would not have been able to rent an apartment in one of Trump’s real estate holdings. And whether Johnson should or shouldn’t get a pardon is not the issue. It is the obvious political use of the pardon that is in question here.
If he wants to, Trump could get a lot of political mileage out of using the presidential pardon. If, for example, he exonerates Confederate president Jefferson Davis, he could solidify and maybe even expand his southern white base. He could pardon Al Capone and ingratiate himself with Italian-American voters. Maybe he could grant forgiveness to the Rosenbergs – Julius and Ethel. There’s a potential constituency there. I suppose he could go all the way back to Benedict Arnold, Trump seems obsessed with what he views as “traitors,” lumping into that category, anyone who disagrees with his plans for making America great again. Hopefully someone in the administration would brief him on the particulars of the Arnold case before he cleans up the record.
Trump has been raising the possibility that he may pardon some of the people who are caught up in the current Russia probe. At the very least, he’s sending a thinly veiled message that if they stick with him, they can expect a “get out of jail” card from the commander in chief. No negative testimony against Trump – no jail time.
Trump isn’t the only one to play fast and loose with presidential pardons. Bill Clinton granted a pardon to billionaire Marc Rich who had been convicted of bank fraud. Rich had been a big donor to the Clinton campaign. There was a smell to that one. President George W. Bush pardoned six Reagan officials who had been convicted of crimes related to the Iran-Contra case. And of course, there was the Nixon pardon.
The presidential pardon clause in the Constitution may have seemed to the Framers to be a good idea back in the day. It’s now become purely a political tool and it should be scrapped.