Donald Trump is trigger happy with his pardon power
By Daniel J. McLaughlin
Donald Trump could not wait to embrace the executive power of pardoning people. Usually, presidents wait until they are truly settled in office to issue a pardon. The last three presidents, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, each waited more than two years after being elected to issue their first pardon.
It took Trump just eight months to use the executive power. He pardoned Joe Arpaio, the rightwing former sheriff from Arizona. Since then, he has pardoned four more people, and commuted the sentences of Sholom Rubashkin and Alice Marie Johnson - the latter being commuted six days ago.
His predecessor was initially reluctant to use the executive power. At the start of his second term, he pardoned 39 people and commuting the sentence of just one. But by the end of his presidency, he issued commutations to 1,177 people (more than George W Bush, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan combined), including whistleblower Chelsea Manning who was serving a 35-year jail sentence.
It took just one day for Obama to extend his "record of mercy" from the lowest rate to the largest usage of presidential power. In December 2016, he granted clemency to 231 people (153 commutations and 78 pardons).
Under Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution, US Presidents have the power to "override the justice system", by returning a person to the state of innocence he had before he ever committed a crime. The first president George Washington only granted 16 pardons over his two terms. On the other end of the scale, Franklin D. Roosevelt granted 3,687 pardons.
Trump is potentially planning to carry on his pardon-happy behaviour. CNN reports that the White House has assembled the paperwork to pardon at least 30 people. They also argue that Trump has been energised by his pardon power - and he has "settled political scores. helped political buddies, righted historical wrongs and doled out celebrity favours with clemencies".
Usually, there is a protocol from the Justice Department in regards to clemency. Submitted cases are carefully considered by the Office of the Pardon Attorney based on their merits, and recommendations are made to the president. Trump, however, has chosen to act outside of this protocol and focus on individual cases brought to his attention. "He's been especially drawn to cases in which he feels a person's persecution has been politically motivated," CTV News notes.
The Office of the Pardon Attorney recently told 180 petitioners that they would not be granted clemency at this time. The Trump administration could carry on acting outside of the office, reviewing pardons and making decisions on a rolling basis. There are currently 2,108 petitions for pardon, according to the Justice Department's office.
Trump's prolific pardoning is nothing out of the ordinary, according to Margaret Colgate Love, who presents applicants for presidential pardons (she managed the Justice Department program for almost a decade during the first Bush and Clinton administrations). While the president's newfound enthusiasm for his pardon power has provoked criticism, she believes much of it is unwarranted.
"There is nothing surprising or necessarily alarming about Trump's embrace of this broad executive power - even if it has been unconventional. His grants to date, at least as he explains them, represent a classic and justifiable use of pardon power to draw attention to injustice and inefficiency in the law," Love argues.
Donald Trump's pardon power is typical of the unprecedented president - some of them may be politically motivated, helping his cronies, and by bypassing the Justice Department, he is undermining it. But the president is within his bounds when granting clemency. However, when it comes to granting clemency to himself, as he has previously hinted, that's a whole different story.