Why Pundits Have to Hairsplit Pardons vs. Commutations to Hit Trump

Press downplays Obama superlative on setting criminals free, makes baseless claims about significance of Arpaio decision

MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski asserted on Tuesday morning, with zero evidence, that President Donald Trump’s pardoning of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is the first of many such pardons and that they will do untold damage to the country. Brzezinski, the co-host of “Morning Joe,” claimed that Trump has embarked on a slippery slope that began with an Arizona sheriff but may end with Russian intelligence collaborators.

“I mean, Sheriff Arpaio at this point, this feels like the beginning of many pardons that will be absolutely very hard to understand and possibly even … really bad for the country at this point,” she said. “I think he’s going to pardon people who have done things with the Russians.”

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Brzezinski wasn’t the only pundit to suggest Arpaio’s pardon was a sure indicator of a coming crisis. Liberals across the mainstream media have blasted President Trump’s decision, decrying the move as an unprecedented assault on the rule of law.

“Arpaio pardon may be opening act of a constitutional crisis,” claimed a headline on Salon, while the Huffington Post suggested, “Trump Pardoning Arpaio Should Raise Serious Alarms.” Other outlets, such as NPR and Time magazine, stressed the allegedly crucial difference between a presidential pardon and a commutation.

The mainstream media’s hairsplitting of the difference between a pardon and a commutation is crucial for detractors to be able to criticize Trump for the Arpaio decision, since their idealized recent president holds the record for presidential commutations.

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Obama commuted the sentences of nearly 2,000 convicted criminals while during his time in office. The commutations and pardons included violent drug dealers, Chelsea Manning — whose leaking of classified information put American lives at risk — and notorious Puerto Rican terrorist Oscar Lopez-Rivera.

But that didn’t stop former Obama staffer Ben Rhodes from insisting on Twitter, “Obama used his pardon and commutation power to give a second chance to people who deserved empathy, not racists who showed none.”

Rhodes’ claim caught the attention of actor James Woods.

“A murderous bomber, a traitor, and countless drug dealers and terrorists,” Woods replied to Rhodes. “You’re either a heinous liar or an idiot, and you’re not an idiot.”

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