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Presidential pardons focus attention on Trump’s motive

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

It’s natural to be cynical about President Donald J. Trump’s decision to pardon conservative media commentator Dinesh D’Souza and several others just 18 months into his presidency given his disdain for the federal criminal justice system.

Indeed, the number of pardons and commutations of prison sentences this early in his presidency gives credence to the speculation of an ulterior motive.

As the ongoing investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election picks up steam, the list of Trump’s friends and allies caught in the dragnet continues to grow.

Thus the speculation that the president is signaling to those who have either pleaded guilty or are facing trial that he stands ready to pardon them or commute their sentences.

Trump and members of his administration insist that letting D’Souza and others off the hook is designed to right a wrong.

In announcing last week that he was granting a full presidential pardon to the conservative commentator, Trump said he had been “treated very unfairly by our government.”

It didn’t matter to the president that D’Souza had pleaded guilty to campaign finance fraud. He was sentenced to five years of probation in 2014 after admitting he had violated federal election law by making illegal contributions to a U.S. Senate campaign in the names of others.

D’Souza and his Republican supporters claimed the administration of former President Barack Obama had targeted him because of his harsh criticism of the Democrat.

However, the federal judge in the case said the defendant had offered no evidence to support his claim.


But the D’Souza case isn’t the only reason presidential scholars and other objective observers question Trump’s intentions.

Here’s a list of other pardons and commutations that have raised eyebrows:

Joe Arpaio, the former Maricopa County, Ariz., sheriff, facing prison time after his conviction stemming from his use of immigration patrols that targeted Latinos, regardless of their immigration status.

The pardon in August 2017 came less than a month after a judge found Arpaio guilty of a misdemeanor contempt-of-court charge in a trial prosecuted by the president’s own Justice Department.

Arpaio had defied court orders that he stop the patrols so he could promote his immigration-enforcement effort in a bid to boost his successful 2012 re-election campaign.

Lewis “Scooter” Libby, a former top aide to former Vice President Dick Cheney who was convicted of lying to investigators and obstruction of justice after the 2003 leak of the covert identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame.

Former President George W. Bush commuted Libby’s 30-month prison sentence, but refused to issue a pardon despite intense pressure from Cheney.

Trump said he issued the full pardon because “for years I have heard he has been treated unfairly.”


In announcing the D’Souza pardon, the president also said he had been mulling pardons for television personality and businesswoman Martha Stewart and Rod Blagojevich, the former Democratic governor of Illinois.

Stewart was found guilty in March 2004 of felony charges of conspiracy, obstruction of an agency proceeding, and making false statements to federal investigators related to a major stock transaction.

She was sentenced to a five-month term in a federal correctional facility and a two-year period of supervised release.

A presidential pardon would wipe her criminal record clean.

In 2009, Blagojevich, who began his tenure as Illinois governor in 2003, was impeached, convicted and removed from office. The former congressman was convicted of soliciting bribes for political appointments, including Barack Obama’s vacant U.S. Senate seat after Obama was elected president.

Blagojevich is serving a 14-year prison sentence.

He has been at the Federal Correctional Institution in Englewood, Colo., since March 2012 and under federal rules he will serve at least 85 percent, or 12 years, of his sentence.

If Trump is true to his word and issues a commutation, the former governor could be released from prison much before 2024.

It is noteworthy that Blagojevich is a Democrat, which again raises questions about the president’s motive for the pardons and commutations.

The reason Trump’s actions have drawn so much media attention is that presidents usually wait until the end of their terms in order to issue pardons and commutations.

The American people have every reason to be skeptical given his public denouncement of federal prosecutors and judges.