Yesterday it was announced that lame-duck President Donald Trump issued 15 pardons and five commutations, all of which perfectly reflect everything from his long-held grudges against the special counsel’s Russia investigation to his willingness to reward political allies. Made public in a White House statement on Tuesday evening, many of the pardons and commutations bypassed the traditional Justice Department review process and, according to The New York Times, more than half did not meet the department’s consideration criteria.
Among those pardoned were two people who pleaded guilty in Robert S. Mueller’s inquiry into the Trump campaign's dealings with Russia, three former Republican Congress members convicted of corruption, and four Blackwater guards convicted for their involvement in the killing of Iraqi civilians in 2007.
The Mueller-related pardons effectively nullified many of the legal consequences associated with the investigation into Russian interference during Trump’s 2016 campaign, an investigation that the president has consistently labeled a hoax. Notably among those pardoned on Tuesday is George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign, who pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to federal officials during Mueller’s investigation. Trump also pardoned Alex van der Zwaan, a lawyer who pleaded guilty to lying during the investigation as well. Both have served short prison sentences.
Prior to this round of pardons, Trump granted clemency to Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn for twice pleading guilty to lying to the FBI and longtime adviser Roger Stone who was convicted on a series of charges related to the Russia inquiry. Trump reportedly intends to pardon more people caught up in the investigation before his presidency comes to a close.
Chris Collins, Duncan D. Hunter, and Steve Stockman are the three former members of Congress who Trump pardoned. Collins, who has supported Trump since his early campaign days, has been serving a 26-month sentence after conspiring to commit securities fraud and making false statements to the FBI, both of which he pleaded guilty to in 2019. Hunter was all set to serve an 11-month sentence starting next month after he pleaded guilty to one charge of misusing campaign funds. Convicted in 2018 on charges of money laundering and fraud, Stockman was in the middle of a 10-year sentence.
Also among Trump’s list of pardons were four former U.S. service members. While working for Blackwater, a private security firm contracted by the military, they were involved in the 2007 massacre of 17 civilians in Nisour Square in Baghdad. All four were convicted on charges of murder and manslaughter, their youngest victim was nine years old.
It's not just that Trump has used his pardoning power more aggressively than most presidents, he has also used it more blatantly for personal and political purposes. According to Harvard Law School professor Jack Goldsmith, Trump has pardoned or commuted the sentences of 45 people prior to those announced on Tuesday. Of those 45, 88 percent were people with personal ties to the president or to people who helped further his political goals.
He still has three more weeks in the White House and is expected to issue more pardons before January 20. In that time, it is reportedly likely that he will preemptively pardon personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani as well as his three eldest children and his son-in-law Jared Kushner. Infuriating as all that is, at least we know he can't pardon himself.