Pardon Me, say Famous People
President Donald J. Trump has exercised the pardon powers vested in him by Article Two, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution four times. And the recipients of his munificence? Joseph Arpaio, I. Lewis Libby, John A. Johnson aka Jack Johnson, and Kristian Mark Saucier. And the paperwork which evidences these full and unconditional pardons? Right here, from the U.S. Department of Justice website.
In addition to the four recipients, recent reporting informs us that Dinesh D’Souza has been pardoned, and that Rob Blagojevich and Martha Stewart might be. So, seven maybe.
The Editorial Board of the New York Times—oh, excuse me, the Failing Times, with its stock price up 70% since January 20, 2017—published Dinesh D’Souza? Really? yesterday. Times op-ed columnist Michelle Goldberg shared her thoughts, yesterday as well, in Donald Trump Presents: ‘Celebrity Impunity’. And over at the Washington Post Paul Waldman wrote Trump’s pardons are nothing but right-wing trolling.
What do the seven people have in common? Six are men. Six are alive. Four—Blagojevich, Johnson, Saucier, and Stewart—did hard time. (Yes, the time at the “country club” surely challenged Martha S.) All, but for Johnson, who died 72 years ago, ran into the Obama Administration Justice Department or an elite federal prosecutor who President Trump looks on with disfavor. And, but for Saucier, all are famous people.
The professional commentators note the prosecutorial connection. “Or maybe Mr. Trump is wielding his pardon power against his perceived enemies in federal law enforcement,” writes the NYT Editorial Board. Maybe? If so, though, Mr. Trump lacks any real understanding of the prosecutorial mindset.
I’ve never been a prosecutor, but I’ve known many. They care about winning and losing, and I’m sure any prosecutor would care greatly about a pardon if it resulted in the release from prison of a violent offender. But can anyone really believe these pardons matter one whit to Preet Bharara (D’Souza), James Comey (Stewart), or Patrick Fitzgerald (Blagojevich and Libby)? These men did what we hired them to do. Juries—comprised of real Americans—convicted Blagojevich, Libby, and Stewart. And Mr. D’Souza? He pled guilty, a fact no pardon can ever wash away.
Another theory—the pardons distract us and happen, intentionally, to distract us—makes more sense. Fundamentally, President Donald Trump runs a kleptocracy out of the Oval Office and other power centers. He needs for us to be looking the other way! And outrageous acts—even lawful ones, like pardons (assuming none of these people paid for theirs)—catch our attention.
Distracting impacts aside, though, I think there’s a nugget in the bottom of what seems like a bottomless barrel. But for Mr. Saucier, we’ve heard of the mentioned ones. Jack Johnson was a good man, caught up in our national shame. The rest? Scooter Libby and Martha Stewart look like gems: serious people who did bad things. But famous!
The rest of the rest? An outrageous sheriff—why, in 2018, do we elect law enforcement officials?—who, don’t get me wrong, harmed thousands of people badly. A fifth rate, two-bit provocateur. A governor who tried to sell a seat in the U.S. Senate over the phone. Lowly is this motly crew … but all of them have a serious Wikipedia page, and Jeopardy contestants need to know who they are.
Everything else aside, our POTUS tells us with these pardons that fame matters and being regular ain’t worth “you know what.” Character? Never mind. Decency? Pshaw. Fame and money? You da Man (or Lady)!!!
The pardon power represents one of the Constitution’s best features, for it gives the president unfettered power to be merciful. Unfortunately, in these times we see that mercy bestowed upon those who need it least, and not at all in favor of those who deserve it most.
*Kristian Mark Saucier, a machinist’s mate in the Navy, took unauthorized pictures of components of the nuclear propulsion system in a submarine. He pled guilty and argued that he should not be imprisoned because: Hillary’s emails. No go on that, but the judge sentenced him to one year in prison, despite federal guidelines which called for a five to seven year sentence.
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