Though Donald Trump has found ways to subvert most of them, when the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution they made sure to include several checks to the president’s power. In regard to pardons, however, the president’s authority is all but absolute. “The President … shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment,” reads Article II. This means Trump can hand a “Get Out of Jail Free” card to literally anyone convicted of a federal crime, so long as it doesn’t impede an impeachment process.
On Wednesday, the White House announced the two latest recipients of the coveted presidential blessing: Conrad Black, a former newspaper publisher who last year wrote a book called Donald J. Trump: A President Like No Other; and Patrick Nolan, a former Republican lawmaker and the current director of the Center for Criminal Justice Reform at the American Conservative Union Foundation.
As with many of Trump’s previous pardons — such as the one he handed out to former Maricopa County, Arizona, sheriff Joe Arpaio, which over 20 Democrats last week asked a federal court to invalidate — the pair he handed out on Wednesday represent some of the most bald-faced cronyism of the president’s time in office.
Black is a billionaire friend of Trump’s who was convicted of four counts of fraud in 2007. He spent three-and-a-half years in prison before being deported to his native Canada. Black is known primarily for running Hollinger International, a media company that published papers like the Chicago Sun-Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Jerusalem Post. He also partnered with Trump to build Trump Tower in Chicago before Trump ultimately bought him out.
As Politico points out, the disgraced media mogul wrote an article for the National Review in 2015 titled “Trump Is the Good Guy.” Trump was pleased.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 15, 2015
But one measly article wasn’t enough. In 2018, Black published Donald J. Trump: A President Like No Other, a breathless celebration of his friend filled with 10-cent words and grandiose validation of the president’s bullshit. “Trump rarely tells outright lies such as the media endlessly impute to him, and a political leader who fudges facts is hardly unprecedented,” Black writes in the first chapter. “For Trump establishing the facts of a matter is as much a competition as anything else.”
“Like the country he represents, Donald Trump possesses the optimism to persevere and succeed, the confidence to affront tradition and convention, a genius for spectacle, and a firm belief in common sense and the common man,” Black writes.
In a statement announcing the pardon, the White House described Black as “an entrepreneur and scholar” who “has made tremendous contributions to business, as well as to political and historical thought,” and has a “distinguished reputation for helping others.” The White House also mentioned previous books written by Black, such as biographies of Franklin Roosevelt and Richard Nixon, but not his 2018 ode to Trump.
Patrick Nolan served for 15 years in the California State Assembly, four of which were as the assembly’s Republican leader. In 1994, he pleaded guilty to political corruption charges and served over two years of a 33-month sentence. As the director of the Center for Criminal Justice Reform at the American Conservative Union Foundation, he worked with Jared Kushner to promote the First Step Act, the criminal justice reform measure Trump signed into law in December. He was pleased with the news that Trump had granted him clemency.
I am so grateful that God used my time in prison to open my eyes to injustice, and equipped me to advocate for the voiceless. And I am thankful that President Trump saw fit to grant me a pardon. https://t.co/ecZrKxGsT0
— Pat Nolan (@PatNolan4Justic) May 16, 2019
Controversy over pardons is nothing new, but no president has wielded the power to grant clemency with as much naked corruption as Trump. Arpaio was a fervent supporter of Trump’s candidacy who, in 2017, was found guilty of criminal contempt of court for defying a court order to stop targeting Hispanics for detention. In a statement announcing the pardon, the White House wrote of Arpaio’s “admirable service to our nation.” Arpaio called his conviction a “witch hunt by holdovers in the Obama justice department.”
Trump has also pardoned Dinesh D’Souza, a conservative filmmaker and internet troll who was convicted of making illegal campaign contributions; Scooter Libby, the former Chief of Staff to Vice President Dick Cheney who in 2007 was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice; and, earlier this month, Michael Behenna, a soldier who was convicted of murder after he disobeyed orders to return an Iraqi prisoner who had been interrogated and released by military investigators to his village. Instead, Behenna opted to strip the prisoner naked and execute him.
The prospect of a pardon has also been used as a tool to convince those indicted as a result of Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation, especially former campaign manager Paul Manafort, to not cooperate with federal authorities. Trump has played coy when asked whether he would pardon Manafort, who has been convicted of a host of crimes, saying it’s “not off the table.” Trump’s lawyers and the lawyers for Michael Cohen also reportedly discussed a potential pardon for the president’s former attorney.
Though the stakes may not be as high regarding the pardons of Black and Nolan, the brazen corruption isn’t any less noteworthy. “A Democrat would be impeached by Republicans and the media would be in a massive feeding frenzy,” former Obama staffer Dan Pfeiffer tweeted of the pardon. “This will [be] forgotten by morning.”