Presidential pardons and commutations are political but varied

Both sides play cover your tail with pardons.

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There has been a lot of publicity and Democrat gnashing of teeth over the Roger Stone commutation. There have also been supporters of the move who saw Stone as a stand-up guy unwilling to sell out the president.

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But a study of recent history shows presidential pardons and commutations are a function of political necessities, not necessarily justice. This goes for both parties.

The most humane presidential pardon on record is that of Socialist Party presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs by conservative Republican President Warren Harding in December 1921.

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Debs had spoken out strongly against American involvement in WWI, advised men to resist the draft, was charged with sedition, and had gone to jail for it. He entered prison in 1919 and was sentenced to ten years. Democrat President Woodrow Wilson, who made sure Debs was prosecuted, refused to pardon him even though Debs was elderly and ailing. But Harding was a better man than Wilson and more humane. When looking at the case in late 1921 President Harding said, “He’s an old man. Let him have Christmas dinner with his wife.” Debs was pardoned and left prison on Christmas Day.

That pardon is an exception. Modern presidential pardons are more like this.

Gerald Ford pardoned former president Richard Nixon for anything to do with Watergate. It might have cost Ford his own presidential election in 1976. He also restored Robert E. Lee to full citizenship.

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Jimmy Carter pardoned or commuted the sentence of Vietnam War draft dodgers, left-wing terrorist and heiress Patty Hearst, Jefferson Davis, G. Gordon Liddy, and Puerto Rican terrorists.

Ronald Reagan pardoned or commuted the sentence of NASCAR driver Junior Johnson, FBI “Deep Throat” source Mark Felt, and George Steinbrenner.

George H.W. Bush pardoned or commuted the sentence of Reagan administration officials involved in the Iran-Contra affair.

Bill Clinton pardoned or commuted the sentence of his brother Roger, Puerto Rican terrorists, radical domestic terrorist Susan Rosenberg, his business partner Susan McDougal, spy Sam Morison, financier and big Democrat donor Marc Rich, and convicted corrupt Democrat politicians Dan Rostenkowski and Mel Reynolds.

George W. Bush pardoned or commuted the sentence of two Border Patrol agents and former Dick Cheney aide Scooter Libby.

Barack Obama pardoned or commuted the sentence of spy Chelsea Manning, Studio 54 owner Ian Schrager, Puerto Rican terrorist Oscar Rivera, and USMC General James Cartwright.

Aside from Roger Stone, President Trump has pardoned or commuted the sentence of Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, writer (actually, this writer’s first editor) Dinesh D’Souza, newspaper magnate Conrad Black, Army officers Matt Golsteyn and Clint Lorraine, former NYPD Commissioner Bernard Kerik, and convicted on corruption former Illinois Democrat Governor Rod Blagojevich.

A myriad number of examples for a myriad number of reasons. Political debts repaid, ideological whims indulged, loyalty rewarded, and basic human decency at work. In the entire scheme of pardons and commutations, the Trump commutation of the sentence of Roger Stone is nothing unusual.

David Kamioner
meet the author

David Kamioner is a veteran of U.S. Army Intelligence and an honors graduate of the University of Maryland's European Division. He also served with the Pershing Nuclear Brigade and the First Infantry Division. Subsequent to that he worked for two decades as a political consultant, was part of the American Red Cross Hurricane Katrina disaster relief effort in Louisiana, ran a homeless shelter for veterans in Philadelphia, and taught as a college instructor. He serves as a Contributing Editor for LifeZette.

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