(WASHINGTON)—With his latest round of pardons and commutations on Tuesday evening, President Donald Trump sent the message that war crimes and lying to federal investigators will be excused as long as you prove yourself politically useful to him in some way.
While the pardons issued fall within Trump’s power, they do not align with the purpose of the power. Presidents were given the pardon power to act as a check when courts unjustly issue harsh sentences. Trump has instead chosen to reward contractors who murdered unarmed Iraqi civilians, people who lied to federal investigators, and former officials who abused the public trust.
“The latest pardons issued by President Trump are a revolting display of corruption, particularly those issued for the contractors convicted in the killing of Iraqi civilians. The fact that the Constitution grants the president sweeping pardon powers does not mean these pardons are just,” said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project On Government Oversight. “Presidents should reserve pardons for those who were unjustly punished by overly harsh judges or juries and to make up for systemic inequities in the system. Using pardons to protect political allies merely signals that you can quite literally get away with murder as long as you pledge fealty to the White House. As with previous questionable presidential pardons, Congress must investigate whether these pardons are corrupt.”
Given that the four men involved in the murder of Iraqi civilians worked for Blackwater, a government contractor founded by a political ally and donor to Trump, Erik Prince, Congress should investigate the motives behind the pardon. Lawmakers must know why Trump issued the pardons and send the message that pardons should not be issued solely on the basis of political connections. The disparity in how well-connected people are treated is especially striking in light of the Trump administration's rush to carry out executions before leaving power.
In the cases of the two men pardoned for lying to investigators during special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, Congress must determine whether Trump signaled that these men would be rewarded for keeping information from the public light. The pardons issued for three Republican former members of Congress for three separate cases of campaign violations and financial crimes also appear to fall under the same pattern of rewarding political allies.
Congress should investigate these pardons and determine the true motivations behind Trump’s decision to issue clemency. Lawmakers should also pass the Protect Our Democracy Act, which requires the White House to share documents with Congress about pardons for family members or for obstruction of Congress cases.
Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that investigates and exposes waste, corruption, abuse of power, and when the government fails to serve the public or silences those who report wrongdoing.
We champion reforms to achieve a more effective, ethical, and accountable federal government that safeguards constitutional principles.