Trump’s Presidential Pardons

By Conor Kelly

At 11:40 p.m. Tuesday, the former Governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, arrived home in Chicago for the first time since he was convicted of trying to sell then-President-Elect Barrack Obama’s senate seat, among other charges reported by The Chicago Tribune. With his fourteen-year sentence commuted by President Trump, Blagojevich reveled in his newfound freedom, referring to his conviction as a “witch hunt,” echoing rhetoric the President himself has used.

Though the former governor’s family and acquaintances celebrated the move, the move was less popular among the Illinois political body. Governor Pritzker criticized the decision, lamenting the potential message this sends to others in politics, especially in a state well-known for its corruption.

“President Trump has abused his pardon power in inexplicable ways to reward his friends and condone corruption, and I deeply believe this pardon sends the wrong message at the wrong time,” he said.

Republicans, such as Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, also criticized the move and defended Blagojevich’s impeachment and conviction, calling it “appropriate.” Though the former governor was one of the more explosive beneficiaries of the President’s intervention, he was not the only one to find their legal woes undone. Michael Milken, the former financier who was convicted and sentenced to ten years in jail for securities fraud in the 1990s, was also pardoned and released from prison after years of trying to get a pardon. Other recipients of a presidential pardon were former New York City police commissioner Bernard B. Kerik and Edward J. DeBartolo Jr., a previous owner of the San Francisco 49ers, as reported by The New York Times.

While Democrats and some Republicans criticized the pardons made by Trump, pardons are not a new object of controversy. In an interview with Dr. Christopher Budzisz, a Loras politics professor, he pointed out that the presidential pardon has been controversial since it was first introduced to the Constitution.

“The power to pardon has been politically controversial from the very beginning, mostly because the President has wide discretion as to who to pardon and why, including the power to commute sentences,” said Budzisz.

When asked for further examples, Budzisz pointed to President Ford’s pardon of former President Richard Nixon, which stopped any further investigations into Nixon’s affairs with regards to Watergate. Another issue that Budzisz brought up was the possibility of misuse of the pardon power, something Pritzker’s statement seems to echo.

“It has been a common concern, when people look at the power to pardon, that a President will simply act to help their friends, people that are on their side. That has been a long-running concern,” he said.

He would go onto note that Presidents have generally avoided controversial pardons during their administration, leaving those for the end of their Presidency, such as President Clinton’s pardons of some campaign donors. Overall, it would seem that the concerns and rhetoric regarding the power to pardon are not new, nor would anyone expect them to be.

What is new, however, is how Trump handled this power. As The New York Times and Budzisz both noted, the President seemingly operated outside the typical vetting process for pardon appeals as practiced by the DOJ. Traditionally, the DOJ has taken appeals for a pardon from various applicants in the justice system, checking to see if any wrongdoing was carried out by the justice system. While no part of the Constitution provides a clear guideline for pardons, the President has seemingly changed an additional norm in the process. Whatever the case may be, readers can be confident that these pardons will provoke discussion for a long time. –Roger Stone

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Conor J. Kelly was the Opinion Editor for the Lorian and a prolific staff writer. He graduated from Loras College in April of 2021 and is now pursuing his master's in political science at the University of Illinois, Springfield. You can find his new work on The Progressive American newsletter.

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