Trump pardoned fellow billionaire Conrad Black on May 15, 2019, with very little explanation. The pardon allegedly came as a surprise to the media mogul, who was convicted of fraud back in July of 2007. More perceptive individuals may have seen this coming, however, as Black has had only positive things to say about the current president in recent years. So many positive things to say, in fact, that he went so far as to write the current president’s biography, referring to him as “a president like no other” in the title.
To an outside observer, this pardoning appears to be the product of favoritism, bringing to mind the recent pardoning of former sheriff Joe Arpaio, another individual eager to express his support for Trump, who was convicted of criminal contempt for his vicious handling of undocumented immigrants back in August of 2017. Trump’s habit of pardoning individuals who are vocally supportive of him has made one thing clear: if this system is to be improved, the president should not be able to pardon people he has a history with.
Pardonings like Black’s set a bad standard for the writing community. The current message being broadcasted to journalists suggests that sycophantic authors can praise the president should they ever encounter legal trouble and expect clemency in return. Political journalists should not be making friends with their current president. They are supposed to be impartial observers who report on current events without bias. Feeding the president’s ego should not be the go-to option for convicts looking for absolution of their crimes.
It is also worth noting that, at the time of writing this editorial, Trump is looking into pardoning several war criminals in time for Memorial Day. United States officials have gone on record stating that the president has already requested the required paperwork and that some of the men soon to be pardoned are still awaiting sentencing. Trump should not be mass pardoning war criminals without a detailed explanation, and the fact that he seems eager to pardon them prior to their sentencing indicates a blatant disregard for what little structure the pardoning process currently has.
When criticizing the pardoning system, it should be pointed out that this issue is not at all exclusive to Trump’s administration. Presidents on both sides of the party line have been conducting shady pardons for years now. Bill Clinton granted clemency to his brother back in 2001 who was convicted for possession of cocaine and Gerald Ford fully pardoned Richard M. Nixon a month after taking office in 1974. This issue has been woefully overlooked for years, but egregious examples like Black and the aforementioned war criminals should serve as a wake-up call to curb this aspect of the president’s power. As executive power increases, pardoning will only get further out of hand if it is not contained here and now.
A more defined path to pardoning could help resolve the issue. Perhaps, after the convicted individual has asked for executive clemency, the president could then decide to pardon said individual before turning the final decision over to Congress for a vote. Following that line of reasoning, it is also important to keep in mind that using the United States Congress as an intermediary layer for pardoning could slow down the process significantly, possibly harming the deserving and desperate individuals who are waiting for the lifeline. A non-partial, smaller third party could also serve as that second layer to the pardoning process. A Robert Mueller type individual with the expressed intent of ensuring justice, regardless of the convicted person’s political alignment, may be exactly what the system needs — hopefully putting an end to this partisan polarization.
Another possible answer may lie in the imposition of a numerical limit to the number of pardons a president can perform throughout their term. This limit would effectively preserve the president’s right to pardon individuals they find deserving of clemency while discouraging them from exercising the power without careful forethought. This will ensure that those pardoned are more likely deserving of the gift.
New York is working on its own solution to the pardoning problem. The state assembly passed a bill this past Tuesday that allows for the prosecution of certain convicts regardless of whether or not the president pardoned them. This serves as not only a step in the right direction, but an example of what can be done in order to circumvent this issue of unnecessary pardoning. The bill itself is meant to rewrite the state double-jeopardy laws, which might provide prosecutors with an angle to pursue convicted individuals who worked directly with the president, rendering any past pardons irrelevant.
One way or another, some sort of limitation on the presidential pardoning process is absolutely necessary. The fact that this issue is only being brought to light now is a huge oversight on the part of the media. A reformation of current U.S. law may be in the works, but until that legislation passes, Trump and future presidents would do well to be mindful of what their citizens want. They reserve the right to pardon whoever they see fit for now, but that may not be the case forever.