Updated: January 21, 2021 10:58:52 am
In the dying hours of his presidency, Donald Trump exercised his power under the US Constitution to pardon or commute sentences of 143 individuals, including his one-time chief strategist Steve Bannon.
Trump has repeatedly used the clemency powers enjoyed by the President to rescue corrupt aides and supporters in trouble with the law.
President’s clemency powers
The US President has the constitutional right to pardon or commute sentences related to federal crimes. The Supreme Court has held that this power is “granted without limit” and cannot be restricted by Congress.
Clemency is a broad executive power that is discretionary — meaning the President is not answerable for his pardons, and does not have to provide a reason for issuing one. But there are a few limitations.
For instance, the President cannot issue a pardon in cases of impeachment of officials. Art II, Sec 2 of the Constitution says Presidents “shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment”.
Also, as stated above, the power is not available for state crimes. This means that those who have been pardoned by the President can still be tried under laws of individual states.
Trump’s controversial pardons
Besides Bannon, the list of beneficiaries of the President’s action late on Tuesday includes Elliott Broidy, a Republican operative who pleaded guilty last year to conspiring to violate foreign lobbying laws as part of a scheme to influence the Trump administration on behalf of Malaysian and Chinese interests, and Ken Kurson, a friend of Trump’s powerful son-in-law Jared Kushner who had been charged with cyberstalking.
After his defeat in November, Trump forgave close aides Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Michael Flynn, all of whom were indicted in the special counsel probe into Russian meddling during the 2016 election. Kushner’s father Charles, a real estate developer, also got a pardon; he had been convicted in 2004 of 18 counts of tax evasion, witness tampering and making unlawful campaign donations.
In December, it was reported that Trump was considering issuing “preemptive” pardons for his close ally Rudy Guiliani, three of his children — Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and Ivanka Trump — and the younger Kushner. The President had also mused about prospectively pardoning himself, saying publicly that he had “absolute right” to do so.
Some pardons were also celebrated. Early last year, Trump granted a full pardon to Alice Marie Johnson, who received a life sentence for a first-time drug offence and whose concerns were first raised by businesswoman and reality TV star Kim Kardashian West. In 2018, he issued a posthumous pardon to boxer Jack Johnson, who was jailed over a hundred years ago for violating the racist White Slave Traffic Act by crossing state lines with a white woman.
Other Presidents’ pardons
Although Trump did break more than a few norms while issuing clemency, he used this power less frequently than many other Presidents, including Barack Obama, who during his eight-year tenure issued 212 pardons and 1,715 commutations.
In his four years in the White House, Trump issued 89 commutations and 116 pardons, according to Forbes.
The highest number of clemency grants by a President in US history (3,796) came during the tenure of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the country’s leader during World War II and also the longest occupant of the White House, serving 12 years.
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