Presidential Pardons and Political Expediency

Presidential pardons for everyone! At least that is what the GOP seems to be wanting over the Russian probe. But, is that a good idea?

Politico arguably made the case for Trump to give out pardons – even preemptive blanket ones – to everyone who is indicted by the investigation headed by Robert Mueller. It’s fair to guess that the intent of the author was to point out how dastardly the GOP and Trump could really be, though.

Historically speaking, the American public sometimes reacts negatively toward presidential pardons of a political nature – like the backlash over the Nixon pardon. However, those hard feelings are generally short-term in nature, and in the case of Nixon, might even contribute to the slippery slope of political misdeeds. What caused Nixon to resign in the early 1970’s became part of the political toolbox for Karl Rove by the 1990’s, and arguably helped put George W. Bush in office.

So, if Trump would hand out pardons for political crimes and misdemeanors involving a foreign power now, it’s entirely feasible that the U.S. election process could become susceptible to interference from abroad without protest by Americans in the future. True, that may seem an extreme result now, but back in the 1970’s, voters would have been appalled if someone traveled back in time from the late 1990’s and told them that political operatives were regularly doing what Nixon had done.

This is how politicking works, in small increments over time. What may seem like a good idea today, for the sake of political expediency can turn into the status quo of the future. Unfortunately, the impact on our nation’s future is rarely considered in times like these, so it is very likely that presidential pardons will flow freely during this administration. Nixon had been told that he could not pardon himself, but it’s impossible to say whether or not Trump will need to test that principle. The long-term impact of a president exercising the power of pardon on himself should terrify every American, but even that is uncertain.

For now, Americans should think twice before they just let it slide if Trump starts giving out pardons like candy over this case of the Russians interfering in our elections. While it certainly would be easier for all concerned in the Trump administration, there also is the inevitable backlash. Temporary as it may be, it could fall in time to cause crushing GOP losses – part of the reason why it’s currently assumed that Trump would wait until after November. No matter what, Trump and the GOP would suffer at least a little in the eyes of the voters, because the perception would be that the president is covering for his friends. Regardless of which side of the aisle a president is, this is not a good thing. President George W. Bush knew that, which was why he didn’t pardon I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, and just commuted his sentence. A pardon would have given the impression that Libby was getting away scot-free, while commuting the sentence still left the man with a mark on his record, albeit a largely symbolic one. But, appearances do matter, which is why Trump is trying very hard to keep the public and media focused on anything but one simple fact – Mueller’s investigation is starting to indicate that the U.S. election process may not be impervious to international influence. Once the people truly grasp that notion, it will be difficult to sell them on the idea of pardons for anyone.

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Presidential Pardons and Political Expediency