Editorial: Trump, Blagojevich and the presidential pardon

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted6/2/2018 2:00 PM
  • Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich autographs a 'Free Gov. Blago' sign at his home in Chicago the day before he would report to prison in 2012.

    Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich autographs a 'Free Gov. Blago' sign at his home in Chicago the day before he would report to prison in 2012. Associated Press File Photo

We have long had our reservations about the unbridled pardon power the Constitution grants to the president.

In fact, we argued that the sweeping 140 pardons (along with several commutations) that Bill Clinton granted on January 20, 2001, constituted an abuse so outrageous that they would have been worthy of impeachment consideration except that Clinton was no longer in office to be impeached.

Among those Clinton pardoned on his last day in office was international financier Marc Rich, a fugitive whose ex-wife had made substantial donations to the Clinton Library and to Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign as well as other Democratic Party causes. (On his last day in office, Clinton also pardoned his brother Roger for a drug case that was more than a decade old.)

Although those cynical pardons and others sparked widespread indignation and Congressional hearings, nothing could be done about them. The power is clearly expressed in the Constitution, and while there could be unusual cases that are subject to judicial review such as pardons for unspecified future crimes or a pardon a president tries to apply to himself, there is no requirement that the president justify a pardon and no requirement that one be reviewed in any formal way before it is granted.

So now we come to President Donald J. Trump, a White House maverick who gives every indication he believes in rewarding his allies and punishing his foes.

Last year, he pardoned Joe Arpaio based clearly on his agreement with Arpaio's politics since the former Arizona sheriff's contempt of court citation was beyond dispute.

His pardon last week of right-wing author and filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza likewise seems based on D'Souza's politics rather than on any systematic evaluation of his federal conviction for making an illegal campaign contribution.

We're not surprised to learn that Trump is considering a commutation of disgraced Gov. Rod Blagojevich's prison sentence. Trump knows Blajojevich personally from his participation several years ago on The Apprentice and complimented his "courage" at the time.

But we would ask that the president at least avoid acting on impulse and carefully evaluate the case against Blagojevich before moving forward. The prosecution has gone through extensive judicial review and there's been no hint that Blajojevich was treated unfairly.

Meanwhile, the bigger issue is the pardon power itself. It is no easy task to amend the Constitution, and that's what would be needed to put some reasonable restrictions on the president's pardon powers.

But it is long past time that those powers be examined and for remedies to be considered.

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