- Trump’s Pardons Have Been Sparse and Self-Serving — And That’s Without Even Pardoning His Kids
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- Trump wouldn’t be the first president to go on a lame-duck pardoning binge
- Trump’s pardons have been simultaneously sparse and self-serving
- Trump’s pardons could set a dangerous precedent
- Don’t believe anything 2020 exit polls tell you | FiveThirtyEight
- NYSE may make second U-turn on China telecom delistings amid confusion over policy
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Trump’s Pardons Have Been Sparse and Self-Serving — And That’s Without Even Pardoning His Kids
President Trump has granted very few pardons so far. This is ly to change but is currently the lowest number among modern presidents.
Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images
As President Donald Trump heads into his last few weeks in the White House, there are signs that a slew of high-profile pardons could be coming, including those for close allies Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, Trump’s family members or even Trump himself.
These pardons, if they happen, could be quite expansive — granting blanket immunity for crimes for which Trump’s allies and family members haven’t even been charged, much less convicted.
At the very least, they would almost certainly be controversial, as many of Trump’s pardons already have been.
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Trump wouldn’t be the first president to issue a lot of pardons at the end of his presidency, nor the first to grant a controversial pardon. But legal experts say Trump’s record on pardons — especially if he ends up using his last days in office to issue get-out-of-jail-free cards to family members or himself — could set a dangerous precedent for two reasons.
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First, Trump has been unusually stingy with the pardon power up until now, even by modern standards.
And second, almost all of his acts of clemency (which include commutations as well as pardons) have gone to people he knows, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, or to those with whom he may curry political favor, the two Oregon cattle ranchers who were at the center of a dispute over federal land involving states’ rights activist Ammon Bundy.
That track record, legal experts told me, is pretty much the exact opposite of how the presidential pardon power was intended to function, which was as a check on abuses by the legislative or judicial branches.
“Many of Trump’s pardons … could fairly be characterized as more about his personal interests than serving justice,” Jeffrey Crouch, a professor at American University and an expert on executive clemency, said in an email.
“Pardons are normally granted to people who have turned their lives around, shown remorse and want a pardon,” Crouch told me, adding that this just isn’t the story line that has emerged from four years of Trump. “[His] clemency approach is that clemency is less available to average people than it is to those with the right group of connections.”
Trump wouldn’t be the first president to go on a lame-duck pardoning binge
If Trump ends up issuing a large number of pardons and commutations in the waning days of his presidency, that wouldn’t be a huge surprise. As the table below shows, modern presidents have tended to wait until the end of their presidency to start breaking out their pardoning pen in earnest.
Federal fiscal years run from Oct. 1 – Sept. 30, so this reflects the last four months of a presidency.
Source: Office of the U.S. Pardon Attorney
President Bill Clinton, for instance, granted clemency to more than 100 people on the last day of his presidency alone, including an especially controversial pardon for Marc Rich, a fugitive financier who had fled the country and was living in Switzerland, and whose ex-wife was a longtime financial supporter of Clinton’s. And President Barack Obama, as part of a broader effort to help federal prisoners serving long sentences as the result of the tough-on-crime policies of the 1980s and 1990s, commuted the sentences of nearly 2,000 drug offenders during his last week in office.
Fear of political backlash has often kept presidents from using their pardon power until they have one foot out the door, according to Rachel Barkow, a professor at New York University Law School who has studied the clemency power. “They’re not as worried about taking a political hit at that point if someone they [grant clemency to] unfortunately commits a heinous crime,” she said.
That might explain why some of the most controversial pardons in modern history have come as a president was leaving office — particularly something a “preemptive” pardon, in which the recipient is absolved of federal crimes of which they haven’t been convicted. Trump is reportedly considering such pardons for Giuliani and some of his adult children.
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Preemptive pardons are rare, but Trump wouldn’t be the first president to grant one.
A month after taking office, President Gerald Ford pardoned President Richard Nixon, who had resigned after being named a co-conspirator in a case involving the cover-up of the Watergate break-in.
Ford pardoned Nixon before he could actually be charged, and he didn’t pardon him for just one specific crime either — his pardon forgave him for any federal crimes that he may have committed during his time in office.
On Christmas Eve in 1992, President George H.W.
Bush pardoned former defense secretary Caspar Weinberger and several other people for their participation in the Reagan-era Iran-Contra scandal, effectively ending six years of legal proceedings before their trials started.
That pardon was especially controversial because Bush was scheduled to testify as a witness in Weinberger’s trial, leading the prosecutor in the case to accuse Bush of participating in a “cover-up.”
Trump’s pardons have been simultaneously sparse and self-serving
For most presidents, though, controversial pardons are the exception, not the rule. Preemptive pardons are few and far between, and it’s similarly rare for presidents to pardon family members.
Clinton did pardon his brother Roger, as part of his last-minute clemency spree, but Roger Clinton had already served time in prison.
So it would still be very far outside the norm for Trump to pardon his family members — much less issue a pardon for himself, which no president has ever attempted (and may not be constitutional).
And even if Trump doesn’t preemptively pardon family members, allies or himself, experts pointed out that his use of the clemency power still looks quite different than other presidents.
For one thing, Trump has been unusually sparing with pardons and commutations — even compared to other modern presidents who were criticized for using the power too stingily.
Of course, there’s still time for that to change, but so far he’s granted clemency to fewer people than any other president in the modern era.
*Data from the Office of the U.S. Pardon Attorney except for the six issued in fiscal year 2021, which is sourced from news reports and is as of Dec. 9, 2020.
“Other” includes forms of clemency that are less commonly used in the modern era, respites and remissions.
Source: Office of the U.S. Pardon Attorney, news reports
Additionally, according to an analysis by Lawfare, Trump’s pardons and commutations have gone almost exclusively to people he knows personally ( former Maricopa County, Arizona, sheriff Joe Arpaio) or whose stories he heard about on Fox News ( former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich) — and not ordinary people who usually receive clemency because a president concludes that their sentences were unjust or that they’ve repaid their debt to society.
“He’s done virtually nothing for people who aren’t high-profile but want to cleanse their records or remove the collateral consequences of federal convictions,” said Daniel Kobil, a professor at Capital University Law School who studies executive clemency. “Instead, his pardons and commutations are mostly self-serving — he’s given them to people who are cronies or who can help him somehow in his political battles.”
Trump’s pardons could set a dangerous precedent
But perhaps what is especially worrying when it comes to presidential pardons is that the president’s power is basically unlimited: Preemptive pardons are constitutional, and even a pardon obtained through bribery or a presidential self-pardon might end up standing up in court. Ultimately, the Biden administration would ly have to be willing to challenge a Trump self-pardon in court — and it’s far from clear that Biden, who has been calling for unity in the wake of the election, would be willing to do that.
Because it’s so hard to contest a pardon — even one that is clearly outside the scope of the power’s intended use — the legal experts I spoke with were concerned that Trump’s use of the clemency power could pave the way for even further abuses.
A president could, for instance, convince subordinates to commit crimes with the promise of a pardon on the other end. That last scenario isn’t even all that far-fetched.
As the Watergate scandal unraveled, Nixon secretly promised his aides that they would be pardoned, although he ultimately didn’t follow through.
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So far, presidents have been constrained in their use of the pardon power by norms and fear of political backlash. What’s more, Congress can’t rein in a president’s pardon power.
Any limits on a president’s ability to grant clemency — short of a Supreme Court ruling on something undecided, a self-pardon — would have to come via a constitutional amendment, which would be very difficult to do.
In the meantime, though, Americans might come to conclude that pardons and commutations are simply an avenue for presidential corruption, turning their use into even more of a political minefield.
That would be an issue, too, Barkow said, since people who are convicted of federal crimes aren’t usually eligible for parole, meaning an act of presidential clemency may be their only hope for a reprieve.
“I’m a big believer in clemency, because there’s always a need for it — laws are written too broadly, judges give sentences that are too long, people change over time and they need their records cleared,” Barkow said. “In fact, I think presidents should be using it a lot more. But when the power is abused, it becomes a lot harder to make that case.”
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NYSE may make second U-turn on China telecom delistings amid confusion over policy
By John McCrank, Alexandra Alper, Pei Li
NEW YORK/WASHINGTON/HONG KONG/ (Reuters) – The New York Stock Exchange is reconsidering its plan to allow three Chinese telecom giants to remain listed, the latest twist to a saga amid confusion over rules set by the Trump administration and tension within Washington on China policy.
FILE PHOTO: Signs of China Telecom, China Mobile and China Unicom are seen during the China International Import Expo (CIIE) at the National Exhibition and Convention Center in Shanghai, China, Nov. 5, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song
If it does so, it would mark a second sudden U-turn. The bourse said late Monday it reversed a decision announced just last week to delist China Mobile Ltd, China Telecom Corp Ltd and China Unicom Hong Kong Ltd after consulting with regulatory authorities in connection with the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.
The about-face was due to ambiguity over an executive order issued by President Donald Trump barring investment in firms Washington says are tied to the Chinese military, and whether the three firms were banned under the order, a source familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.
However, it will go ahead with the delistings, which were planned on or before Jan. 11, if it deems the companies are subject to the order, said the person who asked to remain anonymous because the discussions are ongoing.
Bloomberg earlier reported that the NYSE may flip back.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin phoned New York Stock Exchange President Stacey Cunningham on Tuesday to tell her he disagreed with the exchange operator’s decision to reverse course on the delistings, a separate source said.
Coming in the final days of the Trump presidency, the back and forth at the NYSE underscored the lack of clarity about, and the tensions around, the implementation and implications of the administration’s ban on investment in 35 Chinese companies.
One China expert who has worked with Congress on delisting issues said the NYSE may have made the U-turn if they sought clarity from Treasury about the rules and been told they did not need to delist.
Republican Senator and China hardliner Marco Rubio expressed outrage that the U.S. Treasury may have caused the NYSE to wind back the delisting procedures.
“If it is true that someone at (Treasury) advised (NYSE) to reverse the decision to delist these Chinese companies, it was a outrageous effort to undermine (President Trump’s) Executive Order,” he tweeted.
The Treasury declined comment on the NYSE decision. OFAC, which is responsible for enforcing sanctions, declined comment.
The NYSE is owned by Atlanta-based Intercontinental Exchange Inc (ICE), which is run by billionaire Jeffrey Sprecher, whose wife Kelly Loeffler, also a former ICE executive, is one of two Republican senators facing run-off elections on Tuesday in Georgia. Loeffler is a staunch Trump supporter.
The flip-flopping at the Big Board also sowed confusion among investors.
Tariq Dennison, managing director at GFM Asset Management in Hong Kong, said he had almost completely unwound his positions in China Mobile shares in both Hong Kong and New York, partly in anticipation of needing to find investments for U.S. clients with less exposure to risks associated with the investment ban.
The are also questions about how the order will be handled by President-elect Joe Biden who is set to take office on Jan. 20 and could revoke it easily. His transition team has not commented on plans for the directive.
William Kirby, a Harvard Business School professor focused on China, said on Monday that whereas the Trump administration has taken a “one-size-fits-all” approach to its regulation of Chinese companies, the Biden administration would ly have company-by-company reviews.
Miller said that while the last year had seen toughening policies on investment flows into Chinese companies, “many of these rules are ly to fall by the wayside.”
The executive order banning U.S. investors from buying shares of companies Washington alleges are owned or controlled by the Chinese military technically takes effect on Jan. 11 but does not ban purchases until November 2021.
While the directive stops short of forcing a delisting, a separate bill signed into law by Trump in November will kick Chinese companies off U.S. bourses if they do not fully comply with the country’s auditing rules in three years.
S&P Dow Jones Indices said on Wednesday it would no longer remove the three firms’ ADRs, which had been due to be deleted before Jan.7, from its benchmarks after the NYSE’s latest decision.
Other index makers including FTSE Russell and MSCI Inc have cut a dozen Chinese companies on the list from their benchmarks, but have not removed the three telecom firms, all of which have major passive U.S. funds amongst their top shareholders.
The three telecom firms said in statements that they had taken note of the NYSE’s latest announcement and would release information in accordance with regulations, adding that investors should pay attention to investment risks.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular briefing on Wednesday that some political forces in the United States were continuing with an unreasonable suppression of U.S.-listed foreign firms, which she said highlighted the arbitrary nature of its policies.
“We hope the U.S. respects the legal system and the market,” she said.
(Corrects paragraph 18 to clarify the sanctions’ timing)
Reporting by John McCrank in New York, Alexandra Alper in Washington, and Pei Li in Hong Kong; Additional reporting by Tom Westbrook, Clare Jim, Yew Lun Tian, Se Young Lee, Ross Kerber, David Lawder, Bhargav Acharya, Kaniska Singh and Gabriel Crossley; Editing by Megan Davies, Andrea Ricci and Edwina Gibbs
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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