How Trump Used His Pardon Power

One of Donald Trump’s last significant acts as President was to issue a series of pardons and commutations. With less than 12 hours in the White House, he granted the executive pardon more than 140 people, including his former chief strategist Steve Bannon who was calculated in 2020 with the fraud of donors as part of a private fundraising campaign to build the border wall between Trump and the USA and Mexico. Trump also pardoned entertainers like the rapper Lil Wayne and several former congressmen.

[Related: Trump’s Pardons Have Been Sparse and Self-Serving — And That’s Without Even Pardoning His Kids]

Now that Trump’s presidency has officially ended, how can he assert himself against other presidents when it comes to using the power of pardon?

How Trump’s pardons compare to other presidents | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast

Trump will not go down in history as the stingiest president in this regard. But as the following table shows, he issued far fewer pardons (143) and commutations (94) than his predecessor Barack Obama, according to the Ministry of Justice. In the end, Trump generally agreed with other Republican presidents.

Trump’s pardon record looks like that of other GOP presidents.

Pardons, commutations and other forms of grace granted by each president during his term of office

president forgiveness Commutations Other Mildness
Carter 534 29 3 566
Reagan 393 13 0 406
H. W. Bush 74 3 0 77
Clinton 396 61 2 459
W. Bush 189 11 0 200
Obama 212 1.715 0 1927
Trump card 143 94 0 237

“Others” include forms of grace that are less common in modern times, such as rest and remissions.

Source: US Pardon Attorney’s Office, News Reports

It was unusual, however, to be like Trump’s last minute grace stroll. Most presidents use their pardon powers more generously once their term ends, but nearly all of Trump’s commutations and pardons were issued in the final months of his term in office. By the end of September 2020, Trump had issued 27 pardons and converted 11 sentences. But in the next four months he issued 116 pardons and commuted 83 sentences.

Most of Trump’s pardons came very late

Share of all pardons, commutations and other pardons granted by each president in the last financial year of his presidency

FY president Share of the total grace grants granted
1981 Carter 14%

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1989 Reagan 8th

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1993 HW Bush 49

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2001 Clinton 56

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2009 W Bush 19th

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2017 Obama 61

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2021 Trump card 84

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The federal financial years run from October 1 to September 30. This reflects the last four months of a presidency.

Source: US Pardon Attorney’s Office

Overall, however, Trump hasn’t really broken with his pattern of giving pardons and commutations to mostly wealthy, well-connected, and controversial people. In the final months of the presidency, he essentially reversed the work of Special Envoy Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections by pardoning five of the eight people who plead guilty or convicted of crimes for Mueller’s work were. including its former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, his former national security advisor Michael Flynnand his former political advisor, Roger Stone. And he granted mercy to a number of other wealthy and highly controversial figures. including Charles Kushner, the father of Trump’s son-in-law Jared, and four blackwater guards convicted in 2007 of the murder of 14 Iraqi civilians.

[Trump Is Leaving Office With a Bunch of Legal Problems — And We’re Not Just Talking About Impeachment]

And in many cases according to research by Harvard law professor Jack GoldsmithTrump bypassed the official clerical review process and had either personal or political relationships with the people he pardoned. According to experts I spoke to in December, executive grace isn’t supposed to work that way, to say the least. They told me that Trump’s use of the pardon was not only extraordinarily selfish, but it could also set some dangerous precedents.

In the end, Trump didn’t put as much pressure on the envelope as he could have – in the end, for example, he didn’t apologize for himself or his children. However, it is unlikely that Trump’s view that Trump was frugal and selfish in his pardons will be significantly changed by Trump’s final round of pardons although it has included Some more traditional candidates for the mercy of the executive, such as those serving life sentences on drug or fraud charges, whose cases have been endorsed by advocates of criminal justice reform. As several experts told me last month, Trump’s approach has been largely to show grace to people with the right connections – not to the common people whom power was supposed to help.

Trump leaves the White House today more unpopular than ever in thirty-five

Has Trump changed the rules of politics? | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast

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