President Trump announced Thursday that he would pardon Dinesh D'Souza, the loopy conservative operative who pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance law:
It is a spectacular abuse of the pardon power and a barely-veiled announcement that Trump will use that power to protect odious conservative criminals and undermine the Mueller investigation.
D'Souza is best known today for being too weird for polite company and incredibly racist — though his arguments and positions also have a strange tendency to flip around all over the place. As Alex Nichols writes, he got his start in politics with a deeply racist newspaper at Dartmouth, and then with moldy-oldie arguments about how slaves in the antebellum South were treated "pretty well." He got wide notoriety with one racist tirade after another against President Obama and blacks in general, leavened with stomach-churning fabrications about Obama's mother.
In 2014, he pleaded guilty to a felony count of using two straw donors (one of them his mistress, in classic Conservatives Values fashion) to arrange $20,000 in illegal contributions to Republican New York Senate candidate Wendy Long in 2012. The remarkable thing about this is that not only was D'Souza stupid and careless enough to run afoul of the few remaining shreds of campaign finance law not yet torched by the Republican hack majority on the Supreme Court, but he was stupid enough to do it on behalf of a Republican in New York state in a presidential election year. Long lost to Kirsten Gillibrand by 46 points.
After getting out of eight months of community confinement, D'Souza veered to a new position, making a maudlin documentary claiming that actually, Democrats are the Real Racists. That is a pretty common conservative trope, but aside from being ludicrously dishonest, it was totally at odds with his previous position that American racism was not so bad. In the age of Trump, conservatives increasingly don't even bother to make their propaganda internally consistent, but in any case D'Souza was soon up to his old tricks:
Trump has now exercised his pardon power on behalf of three big-time conservatives: Scooter Libby, Joe Arpaio, and D'Souza. The defense of racism and police brutality is a big factor here — indeed, not only is Arpaio a bilious racist, he was literally convicted for racist acts (namely, refusing to stop racially profiling Latinos). But probably more important now is the signal sent to all the people facing prosecution as part of the Mueller investigation or other probes into conservative crimes. Trump didn't even bother to argue that D'Souza wasn't guilty, just that he was "treated unfairly."
So if he'll pardon Libby, Arpaio, and D'Souza, who won't he pardon? Later Thursday it was reported he was also considering a pardon of Martha Stewart (convicted of insider trading) and former Illinois Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich (convicted on corruption charges) — a bizarre development, but likely explained by Blagojevich having appeared on The Apprentice, and Stewart having hosted an Apprentice spin-off.
The message is clear: Trump's criminal associates get prime access to pardons. Several of those people, including Michael Flynn and George Papadapoulos, have already agreed to work with the Mueller investigation. But several others, like Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen, have not. It seems extremely likely that if they continue to refuse to cooperate and are convicted, then Trump will immediately pardon them. (They could probably increase their chances by publicly calling Obama a bunch of racial slurs on Fox News.)
So long as Trump remains in office, it seems beyond question that he will continue to abuse his powers of office to protect himself and his criminal associates from the rule of law, and that Republicans in Congress will continue to look the other way or actively enable him. If Trump is going to be reined in at all, Democrats are going to have to win some elections.