Unfair Criticism Aimed at Trump’s Pardons
But Obama's clemency to a betrayer of national security and a terrorist was praised.
President Trump is coming under fire by the usual Trump-hating naysayers for issuing pre-Christmas pardons on December 23rd to several of his associates who were caught up in the Russia collusion hoax. They were treated unfairly by the FBI and prosecutors involved in the Mueller investigation. One of the most notable pardons went to Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign manager who received an overly harsh sentence and even spent some time in solitary confinement for white collar crimes. Another pardon went to Roger J. Stone Jr., a political ally and longtime friend of Trump’s who was arrested following a pre-dawn raid of his home by more than a dozen FBI agents. CNN just happened to be there to capture this outrageous exercise of overkill. President Trump had previously pardoned retired United States Army lieutenant general Michael T. Flynn and former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos, both of whom were hounded for what are known as process crimes.
President Trump is also being criticized for pardoning his son-in-law Jared Kushner’s father, Charles Kushner, who served two years in prison after pleading guilty in 2004 to tax evasion, retaliating against a federal witness and lying to the Federal Election Commission.
The New York Times editorial board claimed that Trump had abused his pardon powers and “made a mockery of mercy, doling out clemency to some of the most deplorable people in the country.” As usual, the Times’ editors have it all wrong. President Trump’s grants of pardons and clemency are well within his broad constitutional authority. There are also plenty of precedents for what Trump has done from the acts of prior presidents. The Times editorial acknowledged only two prior presidential pardons that it put in the abusive category – Gerald Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton’s pardon of the fugitive financier Marc Rich. The editors neglected to mention Bill Clinton’s pardon of his half-brother Roger Clinton Jr.
And then there is the darling of the mainstream press, Barack Obama. Obama commuted sentences for a member of the U.S. Army convicted of violating the Espionage Act and a convicted terrorist.
Obama granted clemency to Chelsea Manning (a transwoman born Bradley Edward Manning), who was convicted by court-martial in July 2013 for leaking hundreds of thousands of highly sensitive military and diplomatic documents that ended up being disclosed by WikiLeaks. Manning, a U.S. Army intelligence analyst, had been sentenced to 35 years at a maximum-security military facility. Less than four years after Manning was convicted, Obama commuted Manning's sentence to the less than seven years that Manning had spent in confinement since the date of her arrest in 2010. Obama acted against the recommendations of his Secretary of Defense and senior Army officials.
Obama justified his grant of clemency in part by declaring that Manning had already served a “tough prison sentence.” That’s just too bad. Manning had knowingly put lives and our national security at risk. The late Senator John McCain, who endured truly tough prison conditions as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, was not impressed with Obama’s act of supposed compassion. “It is a sad, yet perhaps fitting commentary on President Obama’s failed national security policies,” McCain said, “that he would commute the sentence of an individual that endangered the lives of American troops, diplomats and intelligence sources.”
The New York Times editorial board supported Obama’s clemency decision. “President Obama did the right thing in granting clemency to Chelsea Manning,” the Times editors wrote on January 18, 2017.
In January 2017, Obama commuted the sentence of Oscar López Rivera, who had been convicted of seditious conspiracy and other crimes associated with his involvement in the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN), a Marxist Puerto Rican independence group that engaged in terrorist acts. Rivera was part of FALN’s “Central Command,” which masterminded the terrorist group. Other members of FALN had previously received grants of clemency from Bill Clinton.
Zach Dorfman, a Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, described FALN’s reign of terror this way:
“The FALN was responsible for over 130 bombings during this period, including the January 1975 explosion in Manhattan’s historic Fraunces Tavern, which killed four and wounded 63. In October of that year, it set off, all within the span of an hour, 10 bombs in three cities, causing nearly a million dollars in damage. In August 1977, the FALN set off a series of bombs in Manhattan, forcing 100,000 workers to evacuate their offices; one person was killed, and six were injured. In 1979, the group even threatened to blow up the Indian Point nuclear energy facility located north of New York City. It later sent a communiqué warning the U.S. to “remember … that you have never experienced war on your vitals and that you have many nuclear reactors.” In 1980, FALN members stormed the Carter-Mondale election headquarters in Chicago, and the George H.W. Bush campaign headquarters in New York, holding employees there hostage at gunpoint. In 1981, they plotted to kidnap President Reagan’s son Ron.”
Rivera may not have set off the bombs himself, but he was integral to helping enable the rampant violence which he described as “armed struggle.”
Victims of FALN’s terrorist campaign were outraged by Obama’s grant of clemency to Rivera, who did not express any remorse for his actions. “I’m disgusted by what the president did. It’s a travesty,” said Joe Connor, whose father was killed in the FALN bombing of Fraunces Tavern. “The enemies of our country are being rewarded, and being treated as if they are heroes. What we hear is that Oscar Lopez Rivera did not get to know his family. Well, neither did my father.”
In the same editorial in which the New York Times praised Obama’s grant of clemency to Manning, the editors were also supportive of Obama’s decision to grant clemency to Rivera.
Barack Obama was the president who used his powers to prematurely release an Army intelligence analyst who betrayed the trust of his country and a terrorist involved in multiple bombing plots that ended up killing or injuring innocent people. President Trump used his powers to end the injustices perpetrated against a patriotic retired United States Army lieutenant general and other Trump associates who were the collateral damage from the Russian collusion persecution.