February 19, 2020


“President Donald Trump went on a clemency blitz Tuesday, commuting former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s 14-year prison sentence and pardoning former New York City police commissioner Bernie Kerik… [along with] financier Michael Milken, the ‘junk bond king’ who served two years in prison in the early 1990s after pleading guilty to violating U.S. securities laws, and Edward DeBartolo Jr., the former San Francisco 49ers owner convicted in a gambling fraud scandal.” AP News

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From the Left

The left is critical of the pardons and worries about their impact on efforts to combat corruption.

“With the stroke of his pen, [Trump] all but negated thousands of man-hours spent by the Justice Department over the past three decades to convict defendants who stood accused of serious offenses: bribery and corruption, fraud and tax evasion, lying to investigators and deceiving the public, and more. Trump can’t reverse the financial and personal toll that those cases imposed on their targets. But he can delegitimize the federal government’s anti-corruption efforts and undermine the notion that it can hold the wealthiest and most powerful Americans accountable for their actions.”
Matt Ford, New Republic

“The common link among this group is that all have some personal connection to the President. Blagojevich was a contestant on ‘Celebrity Apprentice,’ and he was prosecuted by Patrick Fitzgerald, a close friend of and lawyer for James Comey… Milken’s annual financial conferences are a favorite meeting place for, among others, Trump’s moneyed friends… Kerik was appointed police commissioner by Rudolph Giuliani… DeBartolo’s cause was championed by a large group of former professional football players, whose favor Trump has often sought…

“The pardons were entirely personal in origin, and so the granting of them was exclusively an exercise of Trump’s own power. That was their point. A benevolent leader dispensed favors. The world will not change much because of these actions; of the four, only Blagojevich was still incarcerated… The only cost is the further degradation of the government, moving our system closer to a cult of personality.”
Jeffrey Toobin, New Yorker

“Trump also has been repeating a false description of the Blagojevich case, claiming he was only charged for what he said on one phone call that could have been just talk. In fact, the charges related to a month’s worth of discussions and three separate corruption-related incidents. It is true that no money ended up changing hands, but that certainly wasn’t for lack of trying on Blagojevich’s part… [Trump] probably looks at Rod Blagojevich — wiretapped by the FBI discussing all sorts of corrupt ideas and then convicted and sent to prison — and thinks, There but for the grace of God go I.”
Andrew Prokop, Vox

“Objectionable as these grants of clemency may be, they also raise concerns about what would be an even more outrageous abuse of the pardon power: clemency for convicted Trump associates such as Paul Manafort, Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman, and Roger Stone… a principled president will exercise [the pardon] power in the interests of mercy, not because the recipients of clemency are prominent or political bedfellows or well-connected or cronies of the president himself. Trump, however, seems to see the pardon power as a way to reward supporters and score political points…

“Trump’s exercise of the pardon power has been at best whimsical and at worst self-serving and blatantly political. The president would be committing an even worse corruption of the pardon power if he used it to annul the convictions of figures such as Manafort and Stone.”
Editorial Board, Los Angeles Times

“To be clear: Presidents do have this unquestioned pardon power. And past presidents have used it to pardon or commute the sentences of acquaintances or friends of friends -- the most famous being Bill Clinton's pardon of financier Marc Rich in his final days in office. And many have done so at a higher rate than Trump. But no past president has been as transparently transactional in doling out clemency than Trump. Friend? Friend of a friend? Famous? You've got a very good chance of being considered for a pardon in Trump world.”
Chris Cillizza, CNN

From the Right

The right is critical of the Blagojevich commutation but supportive of that for Milken.

The right is critical of the Blagojevich commutation but supportive of that for Milken.

“Blagojevich, a Democrat, was impeached 114-1 by the House and removed as governor 59-0 by the Senate in the deeply Democratic state of Illinois. Even his own party didn’t want his stink on them… Such is the stench from Trump granting clemency to his corrupt former ‘Apprentice’ crony that even GOPers from deep-red jurisdiction are scrambling to run away from it today. Darin LaHood represents an R+15 district while John Shimkus hails from one that’s R+21, the sort of numbers that normally deter a Republican from criticizing the president. Not this time.”
Allahpundit, Hot Air

“Rod Blagojevich expressed nothing approaching contrition for his many felonies until the moment in 2011 when he awaited his sentence. Then came what some attorneys call a weasel plea for mercy — a carefully worded non-apology…

“[The citizens of Illinois have] watched judges frog-march four of Illinois’ last 11 governors to federal prisons. And now a flurry of warrants, arrests and indictments suggests that the feds are pursuing a fresh cluster of public corruption scandals in Chicago, Springfield and beyond. If Blagojevich’s walk to freedom liberates a prison bed, many other Illinois pols evidently have been competing to fill it… Because there’s always a cohort of Illinois deniers who think that what happened to Blagojevich won’t happen to them.”
Editorial Board, Chicago Tribune

“Blagojevich was prosecuted for multiple shakedowns and for an attempt to sell President Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat. His offenses weren’t minor. They were criminal and repetitive. At one point, he was found guilty on 17 counts of corruption… [Roger] Stone, a former Trump associate, was found guilty on seven charges, including making false statements, witness tampering, and obstructing a congressional investigation… Both men engaged in political corruption, the likes of which Trump promised to fight when he ran a campaign against the deep state. And he is undermining this agenda by reducing the sentences of both men and accepting their crimes as common occurrences.”
Kaylee McGhee, Washington Examiner

“This seems more about Trump than Blagojevich, however. Pardoning Blago sets the table for further pardons or sentence commutations of figures closer to him, such as Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, and perhaps others caught up in the Robert Mueller special-counsel probe. He can argue now that he issues clemency actions on a bipartisan basis…

“Trump’s pardons have tended to be more splashy than either Obama’s or Bush’s, and arguably a bit more self-serving too. To be fair, though, DeBartolo did get punished for his part in the corruption, and has apparently rehabilitated himself ever since. It might not have been the most pressing case of injustice requiring executive clemency, but it’s a defensible action nonetheless.”
Ed Morrissey, Hot Air

“The most welcome was the pardon to legendary financier Michael Milken… [He] was never charged with insider trading but was given a 10-year sentence out of proportion to his offenses that the judge later reduced to two years. Most of the original securities prosecutions of that era were overturned by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, though only after Mr. Milken had served 21 months in prison…

“The pardon erases Mr. Milken’s conviction, but the 73-year-old says he has no plans to return to the securities industry. It’s a shame the world was denied his expertise on that score for so long… Then as now the political air was also thick with a desire to punish the wealthy. Such vapors are easy to ride, but they don’t equate with justice.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

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