presidential pardon
November 25, 2020

There's a chance President Trump's pardon of Michael Flynn could backfire some day.

Trump on Wednesday pardoned Flynn, his first national security adviser. In 2017, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contact with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Flynn's sentencing was delayed while he cooperated with former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, but earlier this year, Flynn's new legal team accused prosecutors of misconduct and asked to have his guilty plea withdrawn.

But Trump's pardon, which he announced in a tweet, means Flynn will theoretically no longer be protected from self-incrimination under the 5th Amendment should he ever be called to testify against Trump.

As Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe explained to Time in 2017, "anyone pardoned by Trump would lose most of the 5th Amendment's protection against compelled testimony that might otherwise have incriminated the pardoned family member or associate, making it much easier for [the Justice Department] and Congress to require such individuals to give testimony that could prove highly incriminating to Trump himself."

There are some caveats, of course. While there is speculation Trump could face criminal charges at some point post-presidency, there is no evidence that will happen. Even if it did, it's still unclear exactly what Flynn is being pardoned for, since, as Politico notes, he was criminally exposed both for lying to investigators and "acting as an unregistered agent for Turkey." So if the pardon is specific, there's a chance Flynn would still have that protection. Tim O'Donnell

February 18, 2020

President Trump's own party isn't taking the news that he commuted former Democratic Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's prison sentence Tuesday very well.

After Trump issued the executive order, five House Republicans from Illinois — Reps. Darin Lahood (R-Il.), John Shimkus (R-Il.), Adam Kinzinger (R-Il.), Rodney Davis (R-Il.), and Mike Bost (R-Il.) — condemned the move in a letter. They called Blagojevich the "face of public corruption in Illinois" and said they believed his 14-year sentence for essentially selling political appointments when he was governor was "appropriate" and "fair."

The news has been received with similar frostiness at the state level. The Republican leader in the Illinois House, State Rep. Jim Durkin, said Blagojevich abused his office, and Trump's decision shows the president isn't concerned about Illinois' vote in the 2020 November election, which — considering Illinois generally leans heavily blue — is probably not far off. Tim O'Donnell

February 18, 2020

President Trump on Tuesday issued an executive order pardoning Eddie DeBartolo Jr.

That name might ring a bell for NFL fans — DeBartolo used to own the San Francisco 49ers, overseeing the franchise during its heyday in the 1980s and '90s when the team won five Super Bowls. He eventually passed ownership on to his sister, Denise York, when he pleaded guilty to a felony in 1998.

DeBartolo was involved in the gambling fraud case of former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards, who was eventually sent to prison on racketeering, conspiracy, and extortion charges. DeBartolo testified that he paid Edwards $400,000 to secure a riverboat casino license. DeBartolo himself was charged with failing to report a bribery. He didn't go to prison, but was suspended from the NFL in 1997 and fined $1 million in addition to giving up his ownership. Still, he found his way to Canton, Ohio, when he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016.

Some of DeBartolo's former players, including legendary 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice, were at the White House on Tuesday. Rice said "I take my hat off" to Trump for the decision. Read more at USA Today and CNN. Tim O'Donnell

November 16, 2019

President Trump pardoned two U.S. service members accused of war crimes Friday and restored the rank of a third who was charged with posing for a picture with the corpse of an enemy combatant in Iraq, but was acquitted of murder.

One of the men Trump pardoned, Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, is currently in the sixth year of a 19-year sentence for ordering his soldiers to open fire on three unarmed men in Afghanistan, killing two of them. Meanwhile, Army Maj. Matthew Golsteyn was awaiting trial for allegedly murdering a suspected Afghan bombmaker in 2010 before Trump granted clemency, and Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward Gallagher, a 15-year Navy SEAL, will have his rank restored after he was docked for the photograph.

Some Pentagon and military officials, including Defense Secretary Mark Esper had reportedly urged Trump not to intervene in the cases, or at least consider holding off, but he didn't take that advice. But while his decision may be controversial, it is within his powers to grant clemency, as the Defense Department acknowledged Friday evening. "The Department of Defense has confidence in the military justice system," Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said. "The president is part of the military justice system as the commander-in-chief and has the authority to weigh in on matters of this nature." Read more at NPR and Fox News. Tim O'Donnell

November 6, 2019

President Trump has the power to pardon U.S. service members accused of war crimes, but Pentagon officials and military leaders really hope he doesn't wield it, CNN reports.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper is reportedly expected to discuss multiple war crime cases with President Trump before Veterans Day on Nov. 11 in an attempt to get Trump to understand the severity of the allegations being waged against U.S. soldiers. Trump has reportedly ordered a review of charges against two members of the Army and is also considering restoring the rank of a former Navy SEAL who posed for a picture with a dead ISIS prisoner.

Sources told CNN that several Army and Navy leaders are worried about the possibility of the soldiers' sentences being dismissed or changed because of Trump's intervention. They're instead hoping the president allows the military's own justice system to run its course. John Kirby, a retired admiral, said if Trump "were to overuse his pardon power" there could both be lasting effects in the military judicial system and a "potential crisis of confidence in the potential countries we're operating in."

That said, Trump does have the legal authority to intervene, so Esper's efforts may prove fruitless. Though, as one anonymous official bluntly stated, "just because he can do it doesn't mean he should." Read more at CNN. Tim O'Donnell

May 7, 2019

Michael Behenna, a former first lieutenant in the United States Army, received a pardon from President Trump on Monday. Behenna was sentenced to prison in 2009 for the unpremeditated murder of an Iraqi detainee while he was on deployment in Iraq.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders highlighted the handling of Behenna's claim that the killing was done in self-defense, and called Behenna a "model prisoner" who is "entirely deserving" of the presidential pardon. Not everyone sees it that way — the American Civil Liberties Union, for example, argued Behenna had no justification for killing the unarmed prisoner. But for others, it's Trump's character and the possible political motivations that make the pardon questionable.

The Atlantic's Adam Serwer writes that the decision represents Trump's disregard for the rights of certain groups of people, particularly if those rights conflict with the will of his voting base.

Trump has not shied away from this in the past, either. In fact, he has explicitly touted the idea of killing not just enemy soldiers, but even their non-combatant families.

Meanwhile, critics like Tony Karon, an editor at AJ+, believe the pardon has deeper roots that stretch beyond Trump, which could aid in building a dangerous precedent. Tim O'Donnell

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