Pardon me, Mr. President

DONALD TRUMP issued pardons throughout his four year presidential term, image taken in 2018. Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

Reaghan Mulligan | Opinion Editor

January 24, 2021

The President of the United States’ ability to pardon charged or to-be charged citizens deemed “worthy of forgiveness” was first exercised by George Washington in 1795. Found in Article II, Section 2 of the United States’ Constitution, it is declared that “the President has the authority to “grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.”

A pardon clears the charges of a citizen and grants them back all of their civil liberties. There are relatively no restrictions on the president’s power to give out pardons, except three: A crime must have been committed, presidential power is limited to federal crimes, and the President is barred from issuing pardons in cases of impeachment. Pardons can be granted at any time, even before federal charges or a sentence have been issued.

“I think there should be [more] limitations for pardoning,” junior Bethany Padilla said. “Some crimes are unforgivable, and should not be allowed to be pardoned.”

One of the most widely remembered pardons was granted by President Ford in 1976 to former President Richard Nixon. Although Ford’s approval ratings plummeted, he explained pardoning Nixon was an effort to restore peace and unity after the events of Watergate. 

“Pardoning should be limited to non-violent offenders,” sophomore Kayla Mclaughlin said. “We shouldn’t be releasing potentially dangerous people based on the judgment of a President.”

Former President Barack Obama issued over one thousand pardons and commutations over his two terms, the highest number of clemency actions of a two-term president. 

Former President Donald Trump, on his last day in office, pardoned 143 people. Their crimes ranged from distribution of a controlled substance and false tax returns all the way up to a charge of first-degree murder. Even popular rappers Dwayne Michael Carter Jr. ‘Lil Wayne’ and Bill Kahan Kapri ‘Kodak Black’ received last-minute pardons from Trump for their “philanthropic and generous acts” (BBC).

STEPHEN BANNON received one of the many pardons issued by former President Trump. Photo by Pablo Monsalve/VIEWpress via Getty Images

Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, received a pardon as well after being arrested and charged in August 2020 for fraud related to his involvement with the political project “We Build the Wall.” The project accumulated over twenty-five million dollars from supporters under the impression that this money would be funding a wall along the Mexican border, but the money went to Bannon’s personal expenses instead. 

Among the rest of the pardons distributed in the recent weeks, four former government contractors arrested in 2014 for charges of a massacre in Baghdad stood out significantly as well. These men, by the names of Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty, Nicholas Slatten, and Paul Slough, received sentences ranging from 12 years to life in prison on accounts of voluntary manslaughter, or in the case of Slatten, first-degree murder. The massacre resulted in the death of fourteen Iraqi citizens.

Victims of the shooting, as well as victims’ families, were shocked at the granted pardons. Spokesperson Mia Hurtado of the U.N. Human Rights Office commented that victims of human rights violations deserve to see justice, that justice being time in prison (NPR). However, supporters of the contractors pronounced their joy and relief at the pardoning of the four men, agreeing as a whole that the men did not deserve jail time. 

While it is legal for the president to pardon family members, White House officials warned Trump that any pardoning of relatives would imply that they were potentially guilty of their charges. Trump took this to heart and left the White House with no pardons for his family.

Click here for a list of people pardoned by Donald Trump over his four-year term.

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