Presidents have the constitutional right to pardon whomever they choose. That power has led to questionable decisions by presidents from both parties over many years. And those chosen for mercy or redemption say something about the presidents who make them.
That’s the lens through which to view the actions extended Tuesday by President Donald Trump to former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, former New York City police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, financier and “junk bond king” Michael Milken, and former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. This white-collar rogue’s gallery had in common the element of fraud at the root of their offenses. Trump was explicitly implored by fellow Republicans not to commute the 14-year sentence of Blagojevich, whose crime — essentially attempting to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by then-President Barack Obama — exemplified the corruption Trump promised during his campaign to root out.
Apart from the connections each had to Trump or those close to him, it likely is no accident that his actions — seven others were pardoned — came two days before the scheduled sentencing of his longtime confidant, adviser and political dirty-trickster Roger Stone, and the same day Trump criticized the judge in Stone’s case, Amy Berman Jackson, in an apparent attempt to undermine whatever her sentence is for Stone. Whatever you decide to do to Stone, Trump seemed to say, I’m going to undo anyway.
Every presidential pardon is an interference of sorts in the judicial system. Sometimes, because of procedural issues or new information, such acts have merit. But the facts of these cases and Trump’s history of attacks on the judiciary, especially recently, cast this round in a very troubling light.