Presidential pardons have a long, sad history

trumpturkeypardon

Presidents have long been pardoning more than just turkeys.

“The clemency orders that Mr. Trump issued this week were the result of a process that bypassed the formal procedures used by past presidents and was driven instead by friendship, fame and a shared sense of persecution.” That was the New York Times’ take this morning.

In singling out Trump, the paper seems to have forgotten recent history. As contemptible and unwise as Trump’s actions are to many, he is hardly the first president to take questionable actions in this arena.

President Obama issued 212 pardons and 1,715 commutations, including one of a 35-year prison sentence given to former U.S. Army soldier Bradley/Chelsea Manning for the largest leak of classified data in U.S. history to WikiLeaks.

President Clinton, never one to be embarrassed by his actions, pardoned his brother Roger Clinton after Roger served a year in prison after pleading guilty to cocaine distribution charges.

In August 1999, Clinton also commuted the sentences of 16 members of FALN, a Puerto Rican paramilitary organization that had set off 120 bombs in the United States, mostly in New York City and Chicago. The commutation was opposed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons and Congress condemned Clinton’s action by votes of 95–2 in the Senate and 311–41 in the House.

One pundit recently commented that at least Trump didn’t pull a fast one on his last day in office. That was when Clinton’s did his most egregious pardon. On January 20, 2001, against the advice of White House aides ,he pardoned Marc Rich, a former hedge-fund manager. Rich had fled the U.S. during his prosecution and was living in Switzerland at the time. Rich owed $48 million in taxes and had been charged with 51 counts of tax fraud.

At the time of the pardon, Rich was No. 6 on the government’s list of most wanted fugitives and had been on the lam, albeit a luxurious one, for 16 years, ever since his 1983 indictment by a grand jury.

Rich’s ex-wife had donated to the Democratic National Committee, the Clinton Presidential Library and Hillary Clinton’s New York Senate campaign, raising considerable suspicion about the pardon and leading former President Jimmy Carter to call the pardon “disgraceful.”

A New York Times editorial called the pardon “a shocking abuse of presidential power.” The liberal New Republic said it “is often mentioned as Exhibit A of Clintonian sliminess.” Not that such allegations ever seemed to bother the Clintons.

And the Clintons reaped benefits from the pardon even after Rich’s death in 2013, as Rich’s former business partners, lawyers, advisers and friends continued to shower millions of dollars on the Clintons.

Of course, Clinton isn’t the only “last day in office” pardoner. Remember Peter, Paul and Mary? In 1970, Peter Yarrow was convicted of taking “improper liberties” with a 14-year-old fan, for which he spent three months in jail. On his last day in office, President Jimmy Carter granted Yarrow a pardon.

President George H.W. Bush was roundly condemned for pardoning, commuting the sentences and rescinding the convictions of six people convicted in the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal during Reagan’s presidency,

Reagan stepped up, too, pardoning New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner after he pleaded guilty to illegally contributing to Nixon’s campaign.

Then there’s Nixon. In 1974, President Gerald Ford granted a “full, free and absolute pardon” to his predecessor Richard Nixon “for all offenses against the United States.” This broadly unpopular action was the only time a president has received a pardon. It caused a huge firestorm because Nixon was so unpopular and because there was suspicion that Ford secretly promised to pardon Nixon in exchange for him resigning and allowing Vice President Ford to succeed him.

So much for punishing bad behavior.

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