Tag Archives: pardons

A Little Help For My Friends…

Welcome to our banana republic, where rules don’t matter but relationships and loyalty to the despot do.

Where to start?

Well, first there were the pardons.  In the New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin explained that authoritarians dispense both punishment and largesse based on their own whims–unconstrained by quaint mechanisms like legal rules.

The point of authoritarianism is to concentrate power in the ruler, so the world knows that all actions, good and bad, harsh and generous, come from a single source. That’s the real lesson—a story of creeping authoritarianism—of today’s commutations and pardons by President Trump.

By now, Americans who follow the news know the names of the high-profile criminals Trump pardoned:  Rod Blagojevich, the corrupt former governor of Illinois, who was eight years into a sentence of fourteen years; Michael Milken, the junk-bond king; Bernard Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner, and Edward J. DeBartolo, Jr., former owner of the San Francisco 49ers. (The last three all pled guilty.)

The common link among this group is that all have some personal connection to the President. Blagojevich was a contestant on “Celebrity Apprentice,” and he was prosecuted by Patrick Fitzgerald, a close friend of and lawyer for James Comey, the former F.B.I. director who is a Trump enemy. Explaining his action today, Trump said of the case against Blagojevich, “It was a prosecution by the same people—Comey, Fitzpatrick—the same group.” Milken’s annual financial conferences are a favorite meeting place for, among others, Trump’s moneyed friends. (Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner spoke at last year’s gathering.) Milken is also an active philanthropist, as Trump observed: “We have Mike Milken, who’s gone around and done an incredible job for the world, with all of his research on cancer, and he’s done this and he suffered greatly. He paid a big price, paid a very tough price.” Trump’s explanation for the Kerik pardon is probably the most revealing. The President said that Kerik is “a man who had many recommendations from a lot of good people. (Kerik was appointed police commissioner by Rudolph Giuliani.)

Toobin says Trump’s pardons show that he can reward his friends and his friends’ friends. The message is clear: better to be a dictator’s friend, since he can also punish his enemies.

Other media sources have pointed out that all of the recipients–there were 11 total– had either an inside connection or had been promoted on Fox News. Then, of course, there was money:  Business Insider reported that Trump also pardoned Paul Pogue, a construction-company owner who pled guilty in 2010 to underpaying his taxes by nearly half a million dollars. Coincidentally, Pogue’s son and daughter-in-law donated over $200,000 to Trump’s campaign just since August,  although their cumulative previous donations to Republican campaigns came to less than $10,000.

And speaking of the pardon power…

According to Julian Assange’s lawyer, President Trump offered the WikiLeaks chief a pardon if he would agree to say that Russia had nothing to do with hacking emails from Democrats during the 2016 presidential election.

It’s all about helping your friends and screwing over those who are insufficiently devoted to the “dear leader.”

Last week, Trump named Richard Grenell, reportedly a “fierce advocate” of the President who has been the (detested and embarrassing) ambassador to Germany, as acting director of national intelligence, overseeing the 17 U.S. spy agencies. From all reports, Grenell is a massively unqualified rightwing political hack.

There’s also the fact that Grenell may have been put into the acting DNI role to protect the president’s political interests.

Grenell is replacing former National Counterterrorism Center director and retired Vice Admiral Joseph Maguire in the acting role. On Thursday afternoon, the Washington Post reported that Trump berated Maguire last week over a classified briefing one of his deputies had given Congress on 2020 election security.

The New York Times reports that the official, Shelby Pierson, “warned House lawmakers last week that Russia was interfering in the 2020 campaign to try to get President Trump re-elected” and that that briefing “angered Mr. Trump, who complained that Democrats would use it against him.”

Thanks to the spineless and arguably treasonous Republicans in the U.S. Senate, Trump no longer feels the need to hide his corruption. Instead, he revels in it.



Confounding And Despicable–Kentucky Version

Evidently, Mitch McConnell isn’t the only disgusting person from Kentucky.

On December 13th, NPR posted the following report

Former Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin departed the governor’s mansion three days ago, but the reverberations of some of his final actions are still being felt across the state.

Bevin, a Republican who narrowly lost a bid for a second term last month, issued pardons to hundreds of people, including convicted rapists, murderers and drug offenders.

In one case, Bevin pardoned a man convicted of homicide. That man’s family raised more than $20,000 at a political fundraiser to help Bevin pay off a debt owed from his 2015 gubernatorial campaign.

In all, the former governor signed off on 428 pardons and commutations since his loss to Democrat Andy Beshear, according to The Courier-Journal. The paper notes, “The beneficiaries include one offender convicted of raping a child, another who hired a hit man to kill his business partner and a third who killed his parents.”

Some of the pardons were uncontroversial, but others were simply inexplicable. For example, Bevin pardoned one Dayton Ross Jones and commuted his sentence to time served. Jones had pled guilty to the 2014 sexual assault of a 15-year-old boy; the assault had been captured on video and shared on social media. Jones was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2016.

NPR quoted incoming Governor Andy Beshear about that particular pardon.

“A young man was attacked, was violated, it was filmed, it was sent out to different people at his school,” Beshear said. “It was one of the worst crimes that we have seen.

Bevin didn’t offer an explanation for that one.

A follow-up article from Vox focused on reactions to the pardons, and reported widespread disapproval, even among Republican supporters of the former Governor. Families that had been victimized by the people Bevin pardoned were understandably outraged.

On Twitter, Bevin pushed back against “suggestions that financial or political considerations played a part in the decision making process,” calling such allegations “both highly offensive and entirely false.” He also wrote he issued the pardons because “America is a nation that was established with an understanding and support for redemption and second chances.”

The pardon of Baker, the man convicted of homicide whose family had contributed thousands of dollars to Bevin’s campaign, generated special criticism, with Republican Commonwealth’s Attorney Jackie Steele calling into question why–if the pardon was based upon disagreement with the verdict– Bevin didn’t pardon Baker’s co-conspirators.

There were other mystifying pardons: a man named Hurt had been convicted of sexually abusing his 6-year-old stepdaughter in 2001, and several judges had subsequently refused to overturn his conviction despite his stepdaughter retracting her allegations. (The retraction came after a judge was accused of inappropriately meddling in the case.) Bevin simply ignored the considered decision of several judges who presumably had access to all of  the evidence.

He pardoned a child rapist because, he said, the hymen of the 9-year-old victim was still intact, despite medical consensus that most child victims do not show evidence of physical damage and that examination of the tissue is not a reliable test of sexual activity.

Bevin pardoned a friend of his sister, who had been convicted in a 2013 plot to hire a hit man to kill her ex-husband and his new wife.

Bevin pardoned Delmar Partin, who killed his former lover then chopped off her head and stuffed her body in a 55-gallon drum destined for a toxic waste site. He pardoned
Kathy Harless, who was sentenced to life in prison for throwing her baby in a cesspool after giving birth in a flea market outhouse. The list goes on.

It’s hard to know what to make of this burst of “compassion.” Bevin was an unusually unpopular governor who frequently seemed to go out of his way to be unpleasant. He reversed his predecessor’s decision to expand Medicaid, denying thousands of poor Kentuckians access to health insurance, and took other punitive actions that make it hard to attribute these pardons to a misplaced kindheartedness, or to credit his claimed belief in “redemption.”

He just seems intent upon outdoing his fellow Republicans in inflicting damage and creating chaos.

Now He’s Pardoning War Criminals

Every morning, Americans wake up to news of additional Trump efforts to roll back rational regulations, to insult long-time allies, or attack and undermine the rule of law.

And then there’s misuse of the Presidential pardon power.

I’m not talking about his documented efforts to suborn perjury by dangling the promise of a pardon to people like Michael Cohen. I’m not even referring to the shameful pardon of racist lawbreaker Sheriff Joe Arpaio. I’m talking about his recent pardon of a soldier convicted of a war crime, and his publicized intent to pardon others who have committed such crimes.

Senior U.S. officials have reported that Trump has been examining high-profile war crimes cases from Iraq and Afghanistan, and that he has had aides preparing paperwork so that he can issue pardons.

Not only would such pardons encourage horrific behaviors, they would put American soldiers at risk.

The possibility that Trump could issue pardons has brought a flood of opposition from current and former high-ranking officers, who say it would encourage misconduct by showing that violations of laws prohibiting attacks on civilians and prisoners of war will be treated with leniency.

“Absent evidence of innocence or injustice, the wholesale pardon of U.S. service members accused of war crimes signals our troops and allies that we don’t take the law of armed conflict seriously,” retired Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a tweet Tuesday. He added: “Bad message. Bad precedent. Abdication of moral responsibility. Risk to us.”

Time Magazine ran a column by retired Admiral James Stavridis in which he reminded readers that service members convicted of these crimes had received more than adequate due process:

The circumstances, motivations, outcomes and punishments all differ. But [the cases] share one crucial element: the military members went through, or still face, the military judicial system, which includes a strong presumption of innocence by fellow military members; a very high bar for conviction; a set of judges, prosecutors and defense teams composed of military personnel, most with real combat experience themselves; and a fully engaged appellate system that likewise was composed of military judges. While there may be a very atypical case wherein a Presidential pardon could right an obvious wrong, such a situation is extremely rare — the punishments meted out take fully into account the circumstances.

These individuals have been convicted by their peers of violating both the laws of war and the code of military conduct.

It appears that President Trump is considering pardoning those men, as well as other military members credibly charged with a variety of crimes, including murdering an enemy captive or killing unarmed civilians. (The President is also reportedly considering pardoning a security contractor twice convicted by a federal court.) All of these actions are gross violations of the laws of war and the U.S. code of military conduct. They are extreme ethical and moral failures.

The Admiral also warned of the consequences of issuing such pardons: it would undermine American military standards, be a gift to enemy propagandists, and further undercut our relations with allies (who have strong systems in place to prevent these kinds of actions).

Worst of all, such an action would encourage our enemies to engage in barbaric behavior.

This kind of pardon disrespects every single one of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who follow the strict standards of the Code of Conduct. They do not abuse captives who have surrendered, use torture to interrogate, cause needless casualties to civilians through collateral damage or desecrate corpses.

In the New York Times, columnist Jamelle Bouie described the conduct for which these men had been convicted.

Last year, a federal jury in Washington convicted Nicholas Slatten, a former security contractor, of first-degree murder for his role in killing one of 14 Iraqi civilians who died in 2007 in a shooting that also injured more than a dozen others. Matthew Golsteyn, an Army Green Beret, was charged late last year with the murder of an unarmed Afghan man during a 2010 deployment. Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL who served in Iraq, was reported to authorities by his own men, who witnessed him “stabbing a defenseless teenage captive to death,” “picking off a school-age girl and an old man from a sniper’s roost” and “indiscriminately spraying neighborhoods with rockets and machine-gun fire.”

Why would any President–even Trump–want to pardon such behavior?

For Trump, this toughness — this willingness to act cruelly and brutally — is a virtue. That’s especially true when the targets are racial others.

We saw this 30 years ago when he called for the return of the death penalty in the wake of accusations against the Central Park Five. We saw it during his presidential campaign, when he called for American soldiers to commit war crimes in the fight against the Islamic State. “The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families,” Trump infamously said during a 2015 interview on “Fox & Friends.”

This is the moral code of a caveman. Or a Nazi.