The Corner

Politics & Policy

Trump’s Record on Clemency

The president’s powers of clemency are wholly discretionary: He can use them as much or as little as he likes. President Trump’s pardons have been frequently controversial, but they have not been frequent overall. As of now, he has issued fewer pardons than any president in 100 years. (He may end up issuing more than George H.W. Bush did by January 20.)

The pattern of his pardons and commutations is also unusual. Jack Goldsmith and Matthew Gluck have made some judgment calls in breaking down his record, but it’s quite clear that a very high proportion of Trump’s beneficiaries have been political allies or people with personal connections to him. A high proportion of his other beneficiaries have been convicted criminals championed by celebrities. A very low proportion of them, it appears, have been recommended for clemency by the Justice Department’s pardon office.

The president has no constitutional obligation to follow the department’s recommendations, and going beyond them may sometimes be right. (David French argued for the Blackwater pardons last year.) Ideally, though, a president would regard this power as something more than a perk of the office.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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