In the United States, the pardon power for federal crimes is granted to the president by the Constitution. It states the president “shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment”.
So far, President Donald Trump has pardoned five people. By comparison, President Barack Obama pardoned 212 people in his 8 years in office. President George W. Bush similarly pardoned 200. But most of the prior two presidents’ pardons went to relative unknowns.
Trump’s pardons, however, went to fairly well known figures; people like Joe Arpaio, Dinesh D’Souza and Scooter Libby. And his latest list of potential pardons floated to the press, former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich and media personality Martha Stewart, indicate more of the same.
Blagojevich is currently in prison after being found guilty of attempting to trade the Senate seat left vacant when Obama became president. Stewart served her sentence for conspiracy and other charges after being investigated for insider trading.
The choices seem designed to mostly appeal to Trump’s support base or to targeted groups. Joshua Dressler, professor emeritus of law at Ohio State University, called the pardons politically motivated.
It’s not based upon some sense of rehabilitation or evidence of innocence. It just has a political overtone to it.”
But is there another motive at work here aside from media attention or political points with his supporters? Do these individuals, with the notable exception of the posthumous pardon of boxer Jack Johnson who died in 1946, have anything else in common?
According to former top Federal Bureau of Investigation official Robert Grant, who headed the Chicago FBI office during Blagojevich’s prosecution, the pardons are proof of the president’s pettiness.
It’s so disheartening to think that the president of the United States would overturn the evidence heard by a judge and jury, all out of an animus toward Bob Mueller, James Comey and Pat Fitzgerald.”
“Blagojevich got caught by wiretaps and microphones and he was engaging in a practice that we believed he was taking part in for quite awhile,” Grant pointed out. “I don’t think anybody who listened to those tapes would think anything but it was an incredibly corrupt governor who was dealing with corrupt associates.”