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A Timeline of Controversial Presidential Pardons

From Watergate to Scooter Libby, a look back at uses of one of the most notable powers of the executive branch

nixon trump pardon

Richard Nixon, Donald Trump

John Duricka/AP/REX/Shutterstock, REX/Shutterstock

Presidential pardon power has always been political. But few presidents have wielded it to reward heroes of a political base like Donald Trump, who has pardoned the ranchers who set off the Malheur Occupation, former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Dick Cheney’s henchman Scooter Libby. Today, the pardon power hangs over the work of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, as he racks up convictions for men like former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. Trump has even boasted on Twitter that he could pardon himself. Here, a look back at controversial presidential pardons, from Richard Nixon to Dinesh D’Souza.

September 8th, 1974
Gerald Ford grants an unconditional pardon to Richard Nixon, sparing him from a federal indictment and trial.

January 21st, 1977
On his first day in office, in a bid to “heal our country” after the Vietnam War, Jimmy Carter pardons hundreds of thousands of men who dodged the draft.

March 26th, 1981
Ronald Reagan pardons FBI officials Mark Felt (later ID’d as “Deep Throat”) and Edward Miller, who’d authorized break-ins to the homes of radical Vietnam protesters.

January 20th, 1989
Reagan pardons Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who’d pleaded guilty in 1974 to obstruction of justice and contributing illegally to the Nixon campaign.

August 15th, 1989
Soon after he donates $100,000 to the Bush-Quayle inauguration fund, oil exec Armand Hammer is pardoned by George H.W. Bush for illegal campaign donations to Nixon.

December 24th, 1992
Bush pardons six men in the Iran-Contra affair, including Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, in a possible bid to cover up his own alleged involvement.

January 20th, 2001
On his last day in office, Bill Clinton pardons his brother, Roger, for a drug charge, as well as kidnapped heiress and onetime bank robber Patty Hearst, and Susan McDougal, who was jailed for refusing to testify in the Clintons’ Whitewater scandal.

Clinton also pardons “fugitive financier” Marc Rich, ex-husband of a big Clinton fundraiser, wanted for evading $48 million in taxes and illegal oil trading with Iran.

January 19th, 2009
George W. Bush commutes the sentences of two border patrol agents who shot a fleeing, unarmed man.

January 17th, 2017
Barack Obama commutes the prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, the U.S. Army analyst who gave classified documents to WikiLeaks, and he grants clemency to Puerto Rican radical Oscar López Rivera, whose group was responsible for 130 bombings.

August 25th, 2017
Donald Trump pardons former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, who had defied a judge’s order to stop detaining people solely on suspicion of their immigration status.

April 13th, 2018
Trump pardons Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff Scooter Libby for lying to the FBI during a 2003 investigation into the leaked identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame.

May 31st, 2018
Trump pardons conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza for illegal campaign donations; D’Souza releases a documentary comparing Trump to Abe Lincoln.

June 4th, 2018
In a tweet, Trump blares, “I have the absolute right to PARDON myself,” adding, “But why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong?”

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