In a daring round of pre-Christmas pardons, President Trump granted pardon on Tuesday to two people convicted in the Special Council’s Russia inquiry, four Blackwater guards convicted of murdering Iraqi civilians, and to three corrupt former Republican members of Congress.
It was a remarkable assertion of power of grace by a president who challenged his loss in the election and could be just the start of more to come in the final weeks before he leaves office on January 20. .
Mr Trump has further overturned the legal consequences of an investigation into his 2016 campaign that he has long called a hoax. He granted clemency to entrepreneurs whose actions in Iraq sparked international outcry and helped to further distract public opinion from war. And he pardoned three members of his party who had become examples of public corruption.
Among those pardoned was George Papadopoulos, who was a foreign policy adviser to Mr. Trump’s campaign in 2016 and who pleaded guilty in 2017 to making false statements to federal officials in connection with the investigation by the special advocate, Robert S. Mueller III.
Alex van der Zwaan, a lawyer who pleaded guilty to the same charge in 2018 as part of the special counsel’s investigation, has also been pardoned. Both men served short prison terms.
The pardons linked to Mueller are yet another signal to come for those involved in the investigation, according to people close to the president.
Mr Trump recently pardoned his former national security adviser, Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, who has twice pleaded guilty to charges including lying to the FBI in connection with the investigation into the implication of Russia in the elections. The president commuted in July the sentence of Roger J. Stone Jr., his longtime adviser who was convicted of a series of charges related to the investigation. Both men have maintained their innocence.
Mr. Trump’s pardon list also included four former U.S. service members who were convicted of murdering Iraqi civilians while working as contractors in 2007.
One of them, Nicholas Slatten, was sentenced to life in prison after the Justice Department went to great lengths to prosecute him. Mr Slatten was a contractor for the private company Blackwater and was convicted of his role in the murder of 17 Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square in Baghdad – a massacre which left one of the most enduring spots of the war in the United States . Among those dead were 10 men, two women and two boys, aged 8 and 11.
The three former members of Congress pardoned by Mr. Trump were Duncan D. Hunter of California, Chris Collins of New York and Steve Stockman of Texas.
Mr. Hunter was due to start serving an 11-month sentence next month. He pleaded guilty in 2019 to one charge of misuse of campaign funds.
Mr Collins, one of Mr Trump’s earliest supporters, is serving a 26-month sentence after pleading guilty in 2019 to charges of making false statements to the FBI and conspiring to commit securities fraud.
Mr Stockman was convicted in 2018 of fraud and money laundering charges and was serving a 10-year sentence.
The president also granted full pardons to two former border patrol agents whose sentences for their roles in the shooting of an alleged drug trafficker had already been commuted by President George W. Bush.
The pardons are unlikely to be the last until Mr. Trump steps down on January 20, and they will no doubt fuel the idea that he has used his power of forgiveness aggressively for personal and political gain. The founders gave the president the power to serve as the ultimate emergency brake on the criminal justice system to right the wrongs of those who deserve grace in mercy.
President Trump has discussed possible pardons that could test the limits of his constitutional power to nullify criminal liability. Here are some details about his ability to forgive.
- Can a president issue potential pardons before any charge or conviction? Yes. In Ex parte Garland, an 1866 case involving a former Confederate Senator who had been pardoned by President Andrew Johnson, the Supreme Court said that the power of pardon “extends to all known offenses of the law and can be exercised at any time after its commission, either before legal proceedings are instituted, or during their hanging, or after conviction and trial. It is unusual for a president to issue a potential pardon before charges are laid, but there are examples, perhaps President Gerald R. Ford’s most famous 1974 pardon from Richard M. Nixon for the prevent prosecution after the Watergate scandal.
- Can a president forgive his relatives and close allies? Yes. The Constitution does not prohibit pardons that raise the appearance of personal interest or a conflict of interest, even though they may cause political backlash and public disgrace. In 2000, shortly before leaving office, President Bill Clinton issued a series of controversial pardons, including to his half-brother, Roger Clinton, for a cocaine conviction in 1985 for which he had served about a year of prison, and Susan H. McDougal, a former Clinton business partner who had been jailed as part of the Whitewater Inquiry.
- Can a president grant a general pardon? This is not clear. Usually, pardons are worded in a way that specifically describes the crimes or sets of activities to which they apply. There is little precedent establishing to what extent a pardon can be used to instead exclude criminal liability for anything and everything.
- Can a president forgive himself? This is not clear. There is no definitive answer because no president has ever tried to forgive himself and has been sued anyway. As a result, there has never been a case that gave the Supreme Court a chance to resolve the issue. In the absence of any precedent for control, legal thinkers are divided on the issue.
- Find more answers here.
A chart by Professor Jack Goldsmith of Harvard Law School found that of the 45 pardons or commutations Mr. Trump had granted until Tuesday, 88% were helping someone with a personal connection to the president or pursuing his political goals.
And by overturning the legal consequences of the convictions in the Russia inquiry, Mr. Trump has stepped up a long campaign, aided by his outgoing Attorney General, William P. Barr, to effectively quash Mr. Mueller’s investigation, discredit them. resulting prosecutions and punish them. that prompted him in the first place.
The White House continued to undermine the legacy of the Mueller investigation in a statement released Tuesday night. The statement pointed out that the Mueller investigation “found no evidence of collusion in relation to Russia’s attempts to intervene in the elections” and called Mr. Papadopoulos’ crime “process-related” disdain. .
Mr Papadopoulos, 33, served 12 days in prison for lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian intermediaries during the 2016 presidential race. He then published a book describing himself as a victim of a conspiracy ” of deep state ”aimed at“ bringing down President Trump ”. In an interview last month, he praised the possibility of grace.
“Of course, I would be honored to be pardoned,” Papadopoulos said.
Mr van der Zwaan was sentenced in April 2018 to 30 days in prison for lying to investigators in the Special Counsel’s office about his contacts with a business associate, allegedly a Russian intelligence officer, who worked closely with the former campaign chairman of Mr. Trump. , Paul Manafort.
Mr Manafort was convicted in 2018 on a range of charges, including tax and bank fraud. He was ordered to serve a combined sentence of seven years in prison. This year, Mr Manafort has been confined to home amid fears of the spread of the coronavirus in prisons.
Mr. Manafort had agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to some of the charges against him, but prosecutors later accused him of misleading them and not being used in the investigation. Mr. Manafort’s allies hope Mr. Trump will forgive him.
Two other prominent figures convicted in the Russia probe, Mr. Manafort’s deputy Rick Gates, and President’s former personal lawyer Michael D. Cohen, are seen as unlikely candidates for a pardon from Mr. Trump . The two men cooperated in the investigation of the president.
Peter Baker contributed reporting.