Of all of the predictably critical reactions to President Donald Trump’s pardon of conservative filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza, perhaps the strangest came from former federal ethics officer Walter Schaub, who suggested it should have been done at the end of the chief executive’s term.
Schaub, the departed head of the Office of Government Ethics, told CNN’s Brooke Baldwin Thursday that there have been “bad pardons, but usually if a president was going to issue a questionable pardon, it’s at the end of the term of the president as they’re walking out the door.”
Pardoning D’Souza (shown above) now, Schaub said, is a “brazen act” that could send a message to figures in the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 campaign.
“So it just sends a message that the president is going to act outside the normal bounds of how we go about giving these kind of pardons,” he said.
Joseph diGenova, who served as U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia under Ronald Reagan, said it is odd to suggest that presidents should wait until after they no longer have to face voters before granting controversial pardons.
“He’s being brave and courageous,” he said, referring to the D’Souza pardon. “He’s doing it now while he’s accountable, before an election.”
Schaub, diGenova said, is a “fool. He’s a partisan political hack who is really an embarrassment to the ethics community.”
Trump granted the reprieve to D’Souza, who pleaded guilty to exceeding campaign donation limits in contributing to a long-shot Republican Senate candidate in New York. The president explained that he believed D’Souza had been treated unfairly by the justice system.
Schaub was far from alone in seeing nefarious motives in the pardon — along with other pardons Trump has not even granted but has publicly mulled, such as for businesswoman Martha Stewart and former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Jed Shugerman, a Fordham Law School professor, even suggested that the pardon might constitute obstruction of justice. He said the timing is “dramatic” because it comes days after new revelations about the raids on his lawyer, Michael Cohen. He said previous pardons for former Maricopa County (Arizona) Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby fall into the same category.
“It’s almost like President Trump went through a list of potential crimes that he and his White House could be charged with and found pardons for other people to lay the groundwork,” he said on CNN.
Susan Hennessey, a fellow in national security in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, acknowledged on CNN that the president has unreviewable pardon authority.
“But this still is an abuse of that power,” she said.
Hennessey said the only consequence Trump faces is political accountability.
“That’s one of the reasons why it’s so disturbing that we’re not seeing any pushback or nearly enough pushback from congressional Republicans,” she said.
In a separate CNN segment, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) said pardons can be an important tool of mercy.
“Instead, it looks like the president is abusing his pardon power, either for sheer political reasons, or to send a message to people under investigation, or because the defendant happened to have high name identification,” he said.
Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office prosecuted D’Souza, also registered his disapproval on Twitter: “The President has the right to pardon but the facts are these: D’Souza intentionally broke the law, voluntarily pled guilty, apologized for his conduct & the judge found no unfairness. The career prosecutors and agents did their job. Period.”
A frequent complaint repeated Thursday was that Trump bypassed the normal procedures for considering clemency, a process that typically involves investigation by the government’s pardon attorney and input from judges and prosecutors who participated in the cases. Those same critics, however, generally did not mention that former President Bill Clinton bypassed that process more than 40 times.
DiGenova, the former federal prosecutor, told LifeZette that going through the formal process is useful for low-profile cases but unnecessary for well-known cases with extensive records. In D’Souza’s case, diGenova said, the president had good cause.
“I expect him to do more of these,” he said. “He understands the pardon power because it can do a lot of good.”