President Donald Trump has gone on a clemency blitz, commuting the 14-year prison sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, pardoning former NYPD commissioner Bernie Kerik and granting clemency to financier Michael Milken. (Feb. 18)
The claim: President Donald Trump is under fire for ‘abusing’ pardon power when in reality he has issued the fewest pardons since President Jimmy Carter.
A post on Facebook by the page Red Pill Republic totals the number of pardons and commutations each president, from Jimmy Carter to Donald Trump, issued while in office. Red Pill Republic is a right-wing page that purports to provide information to “patriots” who “prefer difficult truths to cozy lies.”
“Dems are mad at Trump today for ‘abusing’ his pardon power,” the post reads.
The post credits Carter with 566; Ronald Reagan with 406; George H.W. Bush with 77; Bill Clinton, whom the post refers to as “Cigar Bill,” with 459; George W. Bush with 200; Barack Obama with 1,927; and Trump with 26.
A different version of the meme lists Trump at 36.
The post appeared to be responding to the criticisms of Trump’s use of the pardon, which intensified after he commuted the 40-month prison sentence of his longtime political adviser and friend Roger Stone on July 10.
Democrats — including Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.; Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. — have accused Trump of abusing his power, particularly with regards to Stone.
“With Trump there are now two systems of justice in America: One for Trump’s criminal friends and one for everyone else,” Schiff wrote on Twitter.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, called the commutation of Stone an “unprecedented, historic corruption.”
Numbers are accurate, except for Trump
A pardon is an expression of presidential “forgiveness” and can restore some civil rights, while a commutation is a reduction of a prison sentence, per the Department of Justice. Neither erases the record of the conviction.
The power of the president to grant them comes from Section II of Article II of the Constitution, which states “shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.”
The combined number of pardons and sentence commutations in the meme for Carter through Obama are accurate, according to data from the Department of Justice and an analysis from Pew Research Center.
The number for Trump, though, is slightly off in one of the memes.
Percentages tell a different story
Obama issued more pardons and commutations than any of the previous 10 presidents, as far back as Harry Truman, who issued 2,044 pardons and commutations between 1945-53.
But the number of clemency requests that Obama granted tells a different story in the context of the total number of requests his administration received. The 1,927 requests he granted represented just 5% of the 36,544 requests his White House received — more requests than the previous nine presidents combined.
So far, according to the Department of Justice, Trump has received 9,146 requests for pardon or commutation, putting his percentage granted at 0.4%.
Prior to Trump, the only president who granted a smaller percentage of requests than Obama was George W. Bush, at 2%. George H.W. Bush granted the same proportion as Obama, at 5%, and Clinton granted slightly more, at 6%.
Reagan, though, granted 12% of the 3,400 clemency requests submitted to his administration. Carter issued an even larger proportion — 22%. The highest percentage came from Truman, who approved 41% of the requests his administration received.
Clemency in the Obama era
The vast majority of the clemency requests Obama granted were also commutations, not pardons — the opposite of almost every president before him.
Part of the reason the Obama administration received and granted such a larger number of requests for clemency is because his administration ran the Clemency Initiative from April 2014-January 2017.
The initiative encouraged federal inmates to apply for commutations or sentence reductions, and prioritized applications for nonviolent, low-level offenders without significant criminal history, who had served at least a decade of their sentences and demonstrated good conduct in prison.
Trump’s use of the pardon
Many of the pardons and commutations that Trump has granted have drawn increased scrutiny due to the high-profile status of their subjects.
Stone was convicted of seven charges — including lying to Congress and witness tampering — as part of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Other examples include his pardons of former Arizona Sheriff Joseph Arpaio in August 2017 and of conservative provocateur Dinesh D’Souza in May 2018, and his commutation of the prison sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich in February.
Arpaio had been convicted of criminal contempt because he disobeyed a court order to stop racially profiling Latinos in immigration-enforcement operations. One critic called it the first case in which a president condoned “a public official using state power for racist ends.” It was also the first pardon that Trump issued.
D’Souza — a frequent guest on Fox News and a harsh critic of Obama — was convicted of making $20,000 in illegal campaign contributions. Some noted that his and other pardons, which focused on campaign finance law violations, lying to federal investigators and disregard for the judicial process, were also “criminal infractions hanging over several members of the president’s circle.”
Blagojevich was found guilty of 17 counts — including attempted extortion, conspiracy to solicit bribes, and wire fraud — while attempting to solicit donations and political favors in return for an appointment to the Senate seat that Obama vacated in 2008.
Some scrutinized the commutation because Blagojevich had previously appeared as a guest on Trump’s television show, “Celebrity Apprentice,” while others tied it to spite for Mueller, who headed the Federal Bureau of Investigation while it a built case against Blagojevich.
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Most of Trump’s grants of clemency have also been unusual in that they have gone to individuals who did not meet the requirements of the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney or who did not file a request for clemency, according to the Washington Post.
Some critics have also claimed that Trump uses his pardon power “primarily” to reward his political and personal allies, according to NPR.
Legally, though, that’s fine – the president can grant a pardon to any individual at any time after an offense has been committed. And it is not uncommon for presidents to pardon people with personal connections.
Our rating: Partly false
Based on our research, the viral post is PARTLY FALSE because one of the statistics it lists is inaccurate. It also is misleading as a rebuttal to the argument that Democrats and other critics are trying to make about how Trump uses his pardon power. Many of the critics of his pardon power are citing how he’s used it rather than how many he’s used.
Our fact-check sources:
- USA TODAY, “Trump grants clemency to ally Roger Stone after railing against ‘unfair’ conviction, sentencing“
- USA TODAY, “‘Abandoned the rule of law’: Lawmakers react to Trump granting clemency to Roger Stone“
- Pew Research Center, “Obama used clemency power more often than any president since Truman”
- Department of Justice, “Pardons Granted by President Donald Trump“
- Department of Justice, “Commutations Granted by President Donald Trump“
- Department of Justice, “Clemency Statistics“
- Department of Justice, “Pardon Information and Instructions“
- Department of Justice, “Commutation Information and Instructions”
- National Constitution Center, “Article II: Executive Branch“
- The Atlantic, “Why the Arpaio Pardon Matters“
- BBC News, “Dinesh D’Souza: Why did Trump pardon the provocateur?“
- The Hill, “Former top FBI official: Trump’s possible Blagojevich commutation part of effort to discredit Mueller”
- Washington Post, “Why Presidential Pardons Are Normal, Trump’s Less So”
- NPR, “Roger Stone Clemency Latest Example Of Trump Rewarding His Friends, Scholars Say“
- Arizona Republic, “President Donald Trump pardons former Sheriff Joe Arpaio”
- USA TODAY, “Trump pardons Dinesh D’Souza — and might do the same for Rod Blagojevich and Martha Stewart“
- USA TODAY, “Trump commutes 14-year sentence of former Illinois Gov. Blagojevich amid blitz of pardons“
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