Not really, no, but bear with Donald Trump for a moment. Apparently surprised by the backlash over his pardon of Joe Arpaio on Friday, Trump told a joint press conference covering the visit of Finland’s president that “I stand by my pardon of Sheriff Joe.” In doing so, Trump criticized the pardons of predecessors Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, even when they weren’t exactly pardons:
— CBS News (@CBSNews) August 28, 2017
If the benchmark is the Marc Rich pardon, well, everything is going to clear that bar. Unlike Arpaio, or the “Weathered” Underground figure Susan Rosenberg and drug dealer Carlos Vignali, none of these fled the country to avoid prosecution before getting a clemency action. Rich was indeed the worst of the worst, but, er … does Trump really want to resort to a comparison to Rich? Does Arpaio appreciate that comparison?
There’s a problem with the others mentioned by Trump in this press conference — none of them were pardons. Susan Rosenberg and Carlos Vignali got their sentences commuted by Bill Clinton, not pardons. Those clemency actions sprung them from jail, but they did not remove their convictions from the record. The same is true for two clemency actions cited by Trump supporters during Barack Obama’s presidency — Bradley/Chelsea Manning and FALN terrorist Oscar López Rivera. As bad as both those decisions were, they only commuted sentences. The judgment of the American justice system remains on them, but not Arpaio. (Like Arpaio, though, Rosenberg, Manning, and López Rivera weren’t terribly repentant either.)
Perhaps Trump wanted to make the point that the media treated those clemency actions differently, and were holding him to a different standard. But that’s not really true; the Rich pardon got an enormous amount of press, almost all of it negative, which overshadowed the Clintons’ exit from the White House. The Rosenberg commutation probably got somewhat more positive coverage than Arpaio’s, thanks to the media’s ongoing love affair with The Sixties, but the Vignali commutation was part of a Department of Justice review of Clinton’s last-minute clemency actions for potential corruption:
White’s office already is investigating three cases with direct ties to her Manhattan-based district: the pardon of fugitive commodities broker Marc Rich, commutations for four Hassidic Jews convicted of fraud and the allegation that Roger Clinton, the president’s brother, received up to $200,000 for promising to help a Texas man win a pardon.
But the greatly expanded emphasis allows White to go much further in her investigation, sweeping up all of the other clemencies with potential criminal exposure, most notably among the new cases the commutation for convicted Los Angeles drug dealer Carlos Vignali.
In that case, a number of Los Angeles leaders supported the drug dealer’s early release from prison, and the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, Alejandro Mayorkas, telephoned the Clinton White House on behalf of the Vignali family.
The Vignali commutation also is under scrutiny because of the role of Clinton’s brother-in-law, Hugh Rodham, who was paid $200,000 by Vignali’s father, Horacio Vignali, to help get his son released from prison after serving 6 years of a 15-year sentence. Rodham later returned the money.
Trump’s not doing himself or Arpaio any favors with these comparisons. Also, if Trump expects to get a boost in Arizona with this pardon, he may well be disappointed. FiveThirtyEight noted the problem on Saturday:
As the polls above show, a lot of people nationally didn’t have an opinion of a potential Arpaio pardon one way or the other. But a poll taken this week in Arizona, where people know Arpaio best, offers Trump little hope if he’s banking that voters nationwide will like his pardon more as they get to know more about Arpaio. OH Predictive Insights found that just 21 percent of Arizonans favored the pardon while 50 percent were against it. That is consistent with the fact that Arpaio lost re-election last year after being charged with criminal contempt, though he had not yet been convicted. Still, the large margin of public disagreement with Trump’s decision to pardon Arpaio is somewhat surprising given that both Maricopa County and Arizona overall narrowly went for Trump last year. This implies that Arpaio rubbing off on Trump could hurt the president both in this key swing state and nationwide as Arpaio becomes better known outside his home state.
If you want to know why Arizonans opposed the pardon 21/55 before Trump made it official, read this USA Today column from conservative activist and Arizona native Jon Gabriel. The contempt conviction, ExJon writes, was akin to “busting Al Capone on tax evasion.”