Trump: I might commute Rod Blagojevich's sentence and pardon Martha Stewart

There’s logical consistency to all (or almost all) of Trump’s pardons so far. The question is the degree to which he’s being motivated by strategy versus the degree to which he’s just jonesing on having a power as president which even his enemies agree is plenary and unquestionable. A guy who lived in a gilded penthouse in Manhattan obviously would rather be king than president. The pardon power is as close as he’s going to get.


Ed summarized Trump’s pardon philosophy this way in his D’Souza post this morning:

Trump has issued four other pardons besides the one D’Souza will get today. One went to Joe Arpaio, another passionate supporter of Trump; another more defensible clemency action went to Kristian Saucier, whose prosecution was unnecessary and unprecedented but who also became a political argument for Trump during the presidential campaign. Jack Johnson’s posthumous pardon was long overdue but also a good media opportunity for Trump, and Scooter Libby’s pardon no doubt played well with hawks newly appointed within his administration.

True, but I’d go further. I think all of the following are factors in his pardon decisions:

1. Are you a Trump associate or, at least, someone who loudly and reliably kisses Trump’s ass in public?
2. Would pardoning you spite one or more of Trump’s political enemies?
3. Related to the second factor, would pardoning you call into question the integrity of the Justice Department?
4. Are you a celebrity or was your pardon strongly recommended by a celebrity?
5. Would pardoning you set a predicate that might be useful later in pardoning Trump’s Russiagate cronies?

All five so far can be categorized along those lines. Arpaio and D’Souza are Trump associates/ass-kissers whom the left despises, and D’Souza has long claimed to be a victim of persecution by Obama’s DOJ. Saucier was a victim of the double standard by which average joes who mishandle classified information go to prison while VIPs like Hillary Clinton go free, i.e. it was a shot at Comey and the DOJ. Libby’s pardon was also a shot at the DOJ — it was Patrick Fitzgerald, Comey’s friend and lawyer, who prosecuted him — and softened up establishment Republicans to the idea of pardoning political cronies, which will be useful in Russiagate later. And Jack Johnson was a straightforward celebrity pardon for which Trump was lobbied by, among others, his pal Sylvester Stallone.


Where do Blagojevich and Stewart fit into that? Well, they’re both Trump associates of a sort:

Each was prosecuted by Trump enemies at the DOJ:

Stewart is also a celebrity, of course. What all of these acts or would-be acts of clemency have in common is that they’re fundamentally self-interested, the opposite of what you’d think the pardon power is for. In each case Trump is either doing a favor for his political or celebrity pals or he’s taking what he imagines as revenge on someone he hates. In not a single case has he sympathized with some random person rotting away in a federal pen on a dodgy conviction or stuck with a dubiously long sentence. And there’s no shortage of cases like that: All he’d need to do is call up the DOJ pardon office and they’d have a stack of files for the worthiest candidates on his desk. He’s more worried about Dinesh D’Souza than, say, this guy because that’s who he is.

But there are Russiagate implications in the Blagojevich and Stewart cases too, as strange as that may seem. Stewart was convicted of lying to federal agents, the same offense Mike Flynn pleaded guilty to. Blagojevich was pinched for trying to use his power as a public servant to enrich himself, a charge Trump has faced since the day he took office after refusing to divest himself of his business interests during the transition period. What has Michael Cohen been accused of in the flurry of news stories about his post-election “consulting” outreach to foreign players if not trying to use the office of the presidency to get rich? What have Cohen and Trump been accused of in paying off Stormy Daniels without reporting it to the FEC if not campaign-finance violations — the same type of offense D’Souza was just pardoned for?


*If* you think there’s grand strategy at work here, much of this could be seen as Trump cynically attempting to set “neutral” precedents on pardons which he already intends to exploit for the benefit of himself or his favorite cronies later this year. If he pardons Cohen for campaign-finance violations, Trump can now point to D’Souza as proof that Cohen’s not getting “special treatment” (even though D’Souza’s pardon is also very much “special treatment”). If he pardons Flynn for lying to the feds, he can point to Martha Stewart as another “neutral” precedent justifying clemency for Flynn.

Ken “Popehat” White had his own similar interpretation of messaging in Trump’s pardons:


The Jack Johnson pardon remains an outlier but perfect consistency isn’t needed here to see what Trump is up to. The only silver lining is that as his cynical use of what’s supposed to be an act of mercy becomes clearer, he’ll come under pressure to use it on someone truly deserving like Matthew Charles. If nothing else, commuting Charles’s sentence would give Trump *some* slender claim that he’s not just using his most plenary power to benefit the rich and famous. Charles is a working-class American, the sort of person Trump’s supposed to care about. How about it?

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