Since the birth of the nation presidents have used their constitutionally-granted power to issue pardons to Americans convicted of federal crimes.
George Washington began the long list of presidential pardons when he granted two citizens convicted of treason in the Whiskey Rebellion, largely played out here in the commonwealth. It’s grown exponentially from there, including the most recent, Donald Trump’s pardon of Dinesh D’Souza earlier this week.
The United States Constitution grants the president very broad powers, in Article II, Section 2, Clause 1, to “…Grant reprieves or pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.”
There’s little doubt about the right of any president to grant pardons for any reason. There’s also significant controversy surrounding many presidential pardons.
The most notable pardon was Gerald Ford’s full and unconditional pardon of his predecessor, Richard Nixon, despite the fact that he had not been charged with any crimes. It came just a month after Ford took office and in many ways defined his presidency.
Ford believed that pardoning Nixon was vital to putting the stains of Watergate behind and “healing the nation.” Others vociferously disagreed, going so far as to claim that the pardon was part of a deal to deliver the presidency to Ford.
Forty years later Bob Woodward, the chronicler of the Watergate scandal, said that after hours of interviewing Ford and others he had concluded that it was “an act of courage” rather than one of corrupt motive.
Ford also pardoned Tokyo Rose, the only American convicted of treason during World War II, and Robert E. Lee, for whom he restored full rights of citizenship posthumously. Ford also offered conditional amnesty to thousands of draft dodgers, again believing it was important to “healing the nation.”
There have been many notable pardons, including Ronald Reagan’s of George Steinbrenner, and multiple pardons of Jefferson Davis, the presidency of the Confederate States of America, the last being from Jimmy Carter. Barack Obama pardoned Chelsea Manning and Willie McCovey.
There were many more pardons issued years ago. Franklin Roosevelt’s nearly 3,000 pardons top the list, although it should be noted that he served as president longer than any other. Harry Truman granted nearly 2,000, while Eisenhower pardoned just more than 1,000.
John F. Kennedy had pardoned just shy of 500 Americans when his life was taken and his successor, Lyndon Johnson, granted slightly less than 1,000.
Jimmy Carter, who served only one term granted more than 500 pardons, while both Reagan and Clinton, who each served two terms granted less than 400 each. Most recently George W. Bush pardoned just less than 200 (189) while Barack Obama granted slightly more (212)
All of this history brings us to the clamor over Donald J. Trump’s pardon of Dinesh D’Souza. Once again the Left has it’s rhetoric hyped up beyond reason.
To listen to some of the president’s critics you’d think the pardon of a not especially well-known writer is the beginning of a constitutional crisis.
Their overheated and overreaching charges, including wild-eyed speculation both about the motives for granting the pardons and pardons that might yet come, defy logic.
President Trump granted one pardon during his first year in office. One. Since then he’s given four more. That’s a total of five, a far cry from the levels of his predecessors.
Of those five, the pardons of Kristian Saucier and Sholom Rubashkin understandably didn’t generate much controversy. The pardon of “Scooter” Libby earlier this year caused some on one Left to again go ballistic, but Libby had already had his sentence commuted and all the palaver was clearly for partisan purposes and not much more.
Now we hear that Trump is “abusing the system” by granting “celebrity pardons.” One can only assume that his critics are referring to his pardon, posthumously, of boxing legend, Jack Johnson.
Your can call the Johnson pardon whatever you want. Simply stated it was the right thing to do. For a century presidents had the opportunity to correct a misjustice, not merely to “forgive” some transgression.
Johnson, the first African American world heavyweight champ, was convicted over a century ago of violating the Mann Act. His crime? “Transporting a woman across state lines for immoral purposes.”
He was charged more than once. Finally he was convicted in the courtroom of Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who not coincidently preserved the color barrier as commissioner of baseball, and an all-white jury. The conviction came despite the fact that the acts alleged against Johnson occurred before the passage of the Mann Act. Johnson eventually served a prison sentence at Leavenworth.
That’s the “celebrity” pardon of the Trump Administration.
Did anyone on the Left have the same outrage when Obama pardoned Willie McCovey? Or when Bill Clinton pardoned his own brother (not to mention Marc Rich)?
Five pardons, not 500. One “celebrity pardon.” Three pardons of relatively obscure Americans whose crimes were never front page news and certainly could be granted forgiveness under the powers the Founders granted the president.
You’ve really got to wonder what the uproar is really about. I think we all know.