An attempt to right criminal justice wrongs or a message to those implicated in the Russia investigation?
On April 13, 2018, President Donald Trump exercised his pardoning power, an executive right given to the commander in chief, allowing him or her to grant pardons or reprieves for federal crimes. Trump pardoned Scooter Libby, who had been the Chief of Staff to former Vice President Dick Cheney (who served under President Bush from 2001 to 2009). Libby was convicted in 2007 of perjury and obstruction of justice regarding a case wherein federal officials had allegedly leaked the classified identity of a covert CIA agent, Valerie Plame Wilson. Libby was fined $250,000 and sentenced to 30 months in prison. However, President Bush commuted the charges, meaning that Libby’s punishment was lessened and he never actually went to prison, but the charges against him still stood. Trump officially nullified Libby’s conviction on April 13.
In August 2017, Trump pardoned Joe Arpaio. Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt; he defied an official order to stop detaining suspected undocumented immigrants. There has also recently been talk of Trump granting a posthumous pardon to boxer Jack Johnson. Johnson was convicted of travelling across state lines with a white woman in 1913.
Especially in regards to the pardon of Libby, which many feel is a case that shows a striking resemblance to the current investigations of Trump and his own administration, many feel that Trump is on this pardoning spree to send a message, rather than to right the supposed wrongs of the unfair criminal justice system. Many highlight the hypocrisy of the situation, as on the same day Trump was considering pardoning a man convicted of leaking information, he was criticizing the FBI director, James Comey, for doing the same thing.
Adam Schiff, a representative Democrat of California summed up the situation in a tweet, “On the day the president wrongly attacks Comey for being a ‘leaker and liar’ he considers pardoning a convicted leaker and liar, Scooter Libby. This is the president’s way of sending a message to those implicated in the Russia investigation: You have my back and I’ll have yours.”
What this means is that it appears that Trump is exercising his pardoning power to demonstrate to those around him that he is capable of getting any charges against them dropped. Trump is currently being investigated for ties to Russia and obstruction of justice. Through demonstrating his pardoning power, Trump is showing that there is no need for his staff and others implicated in the investigation to cooperate with the FBI. If they are then charged for perjury and obstruction of justice for this refusal to cooperate, Trump will simply pardon them and all charges will be dropped. What this ultimately symbolism, however, is that Trump and his staff have something to hide from investigators and Trump will most likely be needing to issue more pardons in the coming months.