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Virtually Every Trump Pardon is a Disgrace; Even the “Good Ones” are Marred by Arbitrariness

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My partner – who has a Masters in Russia-Eurasia Studies and extensive work experience in the Former Soviet Union – announced this morning that she’s not reading anything else about the Manfort pardon because it’s making her nauseous.

Frank Foer, who spent the last few years doing very strong reporting on Manafort, provides a good rundown of why all of us should be having a similar reaction.

Obviously, Manafort it only one piece of the awful. The vast majority of Trump’s other uses of the pardon power are also varying degrees of gross. The Washington Post is tracking Trump’s post-election pardons and commutations, helpfully broken down into categories like:

  • “Obstruction of Justice” (just kidding – they call it “Russia Investigation”);
  • “Family Ties”;
  • “Republican Lawmakers”; and
  • “War Criminals” (again, kidding – they call it “National Security” and include “two former Border Patrol agents whose sentences for shooting a suspected drug smuggler fleeing their custody had been previously commuted” by George W. Bush).

There’s also an “other pardons” section that contains very little information.

What it does provide underscores how even some of the ‘good’ pardons are tainted by the stink of patrimonialism. Most of Obama’s many commutations for, say, nonviolent drug offenses went through a rule-based process aimed at ensuring fairness. Trump’s are the result of interpersonal connections.

A statement from the White House on Dec. 22 indicated that four men and women who received clemency had been recommended by Alice Johnson, the woman whose own prison sentence after a drug conviction was commuted by Trump in 2018 following lobbying by celebrity Kim Kardashian.

When it comes to the rest of the pardons, the Post simply lists names and provides a link to the White House statement. This strikes me as a disservice to readers, since it obscures how many of Trump’s pardons went to corrupt government officials and other well-connected fraudsters, as well as law-enforcement officers convicted of civil-right violations.

One of the real standouts on the list is Philip Esformes.

Philip Esformes, a former Miami Beach healthcare mogul convicted of playing a central role in one of the nation’s biggest Medicare fraud cases and using his ill-gotten millions to pay bribes for favors, won a commutation of his 20-year sentence from President Donald Trump Tuesday night.

Esformes, convicted of paying bribes, money laundering and other charges, was also ordered to pay $44 million to the taxpayer-funded Medicare program and the U.S. government after a grueling 2019 trial prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami and Justice Department. Trump’s commutation did not overturn that restitution order.

A handful of former federal prosecutors in South Florida questioned Trump’s clemency decision.

At his sentencing in September 2019, U.S. District Judge Robert Scola called Esformes’ scheme to generate thousands of Medicare patients for his chain of assisted-living and nursing-home facilities in Miami-Dade “unmatched in our community, if not our country” and said he “violated [the system’s] trust in epic proportions.”

Trump is what happens when you combine George H.W. Bush’s obstruction-of-justice pardons with Clinton’s ‘friends and wealthy donors’ pardons – and then go nuclear.

So here we are, seeing the rule of law shredded by yet another poorly conceived aspect of the Constitution. We need to fix that mistake, and amend the pardon power.

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