Article II, Section 2: The Presidential Pardon
Over the last couple of years, I have made what some may believe to be “controversial statements.” From my supportive comments towards NFL players (or anyone really) kneeling or remaining seated during the national anthem to yes, blaming institutional racism for police brutality, I have entertained much dialogue (read “blowback.”). I have noticed a few people that have “disappeared” from my Facebook feed (some of whom are family, if you can believe that!) and so I assume that they are more comfortable not seeing my face when they look for their neighbor’s newest cat video.
Facebook “rejection” has never bothered me and in fact, as I have gotten more “formal” with my posts, I have taken greater care to try not to offend specific individuals or groups. I am not always successful, but I do make the attempt. Generalizing people and placing them into groups or voting blocks leads to stereotypes that once defined tend to stick for decades, whether or not they are grounded in reality.
I mention all of this here because, in this post, I cannot guarantee that you will not be offended, nor can I guarantee that I will not generalize or stereotype. What all Americans should be focused on this weekend is the historic natural disaster in southeast Texas. Instead, Texans are competing with significant and controversial news coming out of the White House – actions taken by the President, I assume timed appropriately to be buried by said category 4 hurricane.
First, I would like to commend the President and federal officials for their response thus far to Hurricane Harvey. By all accounts, you have done your job very well. Texans have another two or three days of rain coming their way with no place to put it. Governor John Kasich was on “Meet the Press” this morning and reminded everyone that donating to the Salvation Army or local charity would go far in mobilizing the support that our fellow citizens will need in the months and years ahead.
Second, one of the earliest criticisms of President Obama (at least that I remember) was his world wide “apology tour” after he was elected. Probably better explained was the administration’s foreign policy reset after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 based on faulty intelligence and the perceived American arrogance around the globe. Republicans and neocons were extremely critical of the President’s approach because of the perceived weakness it presented to allies and opponents alike. I cannot begin to imagine the apology tour that will need to happen after the Trump Administration. Yes, it will have to be a global tour but it will first start right here, in America. The divisions that need treatment and healing are growing deeper and deeper by the day.
On Friday night, a little after 8:00 pm ET, the White House released a statement announcing the pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio. This came after the White House released an official memo banning transgender soldiers from the military reversing a policy enacted by the Obama Administration. Two weeks ago a woman was killed by a neo-Nazi during a white supremacist rally that the President tried to rationalize during an off the rails press conference last week. None of this is normal but even then, I think you could say the President has outdone himself.
The Constitution gives the President the right to pardon, except in cases of impeachment and state crimes. Pardons are not always controversial, but there is a process; people wishing to be considered for clemency submit an application through the Department of Justice. Applicants are vetted and cases are investigated. Of course, higher profile applicants probably get “expedited” treatment – and by ‘higher profile’ I mean, ‘political.’
There have been several controversial pardons in the last few administrations. The two I remembered without Googling was Chelsea Manning in 2017 and Marc Rich in 2001. Marc Rich was a commodities banker who illegally traded with Iran and avoided paying millions of dollars in taxes, but his wife was a successful Democratic fundraiser. Bill Clinton pardoned him in his last days while his Chief of Staff, Leon Panetta was giving an interview (presumably because Panetta would have advised against it). President Obama pardoned Chelsea Manning who was serving 35 years in prison for passing military secrets to Wikileaks.
There have been other controversial pardons including George W. Bush’s commutation of Scooter Libby’s sentence in 2007; Libby, who was Cheney’s Chief of Staff was convicted of “perjury and obstruction for lying” to the CIA in the leaking of Valerie Plame’s name to reporters thus ending her career as a CIA operative. George H. W. Bush commuted Casper Weinberger in 1992 for his role in the Iran Contra Affair (that role being, Secretary of Defense, convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice).
And of course, the granddaddy of them all: Richard Nixon.
Presidents typically grant pardons at the end of their terms, particularly when the ones being granted will generate blowback. It is much easier to issue a statement of justification and explanation, answer a few questions during the remaining “daily briefings” and allow the media to focus on the incoming administration. In the Marc Rich situation, the controversy mulled around in the far right blogosphere and came back during the 2016 campaign to offer up conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton’s involvement in the original decision, but for the most part, the decision to pardon is cataloged in the annals of history and becomes at most, a small section in the former President’s autobiography.
Because nothing about this President should surprise us, I was actually a little bemused by the blowback on the Arpaio pardon. First, Trump all but announced it at his pep rally on Tuesday. Second, there had been leaks from the White House all week that the paperwork had been submitted. And third, there was a category 4 hurricane in the news. The timing was perfect.
Who is Joe Arpaio?
If you do not know who Joe Arpaio is I am afraid that this post will make little sense to you. I have included several links to stories that have just come out this morning, describing the abuses that this man inflicted on the community he swore to protect. I’ve also checked all the embedded links to ensure that the sources are real and credible. I would encourage everyone, especially doubters, Trump supporters, and Republicans to read up on the President’s Number #1 Fan. He’s a doozy.
At a high level, Arpaio was the sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona from 1993 to 2016. Maricopa County includes the cities of Phoenix, Mesa, and Sunrise and covers a 4+ million population. Arpaio was reelected five times, despite confirmed reports of abuse and inhumane treatment in his jails and civil rights violations on the streets. It has been estimated by several Phoenix news outlets that Arpaio and his officers have cost the state $142 million in law suits, civil rights violations and individual settlements for deaths while in custody.
If you were a Republican say 10 years ago, you may have invited Arpaio to a fundraising event but today, “normal” Republicans – the ones that Breitbart and other anti-immigration, nationalist and frankly ‘racist’ news outlets go after – condemn Arpaio, his views, and his tactics as not being part of the ideals on which America was founded. If you are a Trump supporter, Arpaio is a “tough on crime, tough on illegal immigration” law enforcement officer.
And if you are like me, a left of center, educated and rational being, Arpaio is just an ignorant, racist son of a bitch whose narcissism and egotistical need for attention, combined with his hatred and fear of people of color led to a 23-year campaign of violence and terror against Hispanics or anyone he profiled as a potential undocumented immigrant. As a supposed upholder of law and order, he shunned the federal government and ignored a court order that told him to STOP racially profiling people of Hispanic descent. Arpaio simply said, “fuck you” and did it anyway.
But to devote any more white space to Arpaio’s crimes against humanity would be wasted time and effort; there is so much that has been written about this miserable excuse for a human being. He was a birther, which brought him into contact with our President back in 2011 and from the beginning, their paths and stars were aligned.
I am not bothered by the pardon. It is well within the powers of the president. I am bothered that “we” continue to be surprised by the abnormality of Trump, continue to rail about it in the mainstream media, call for Republicans to take a stand against the President and applaud when a few tweet a rebuke. I am “bothered” that almost every week I read a story or watch an interview about how the Democrats do not have an agenda or a message beyond “being against Trump.” I am “bothered” that after what, 8 months of nonstop controversy, legislative failure, and media leaks that almost 40% of the population looks at the situation as a “liberal media problem” and not an issue of CEO incompetence or possible mental instability.
What is wrong with you?
First – to those who like to shake the shiny object in order to distract attention from the “real” thing on the other side of the room – do not worry about the Democrats. You need to focus on your own house – not ours. We have it under control. And to the charge that the only message the Democrats have is to be “against” Trump, I say the following:
“Given the audacity, lack of appreciation and adherence for political and ethical norms and behaviors demonstrated by the Trump Administration, Democrats and Progressives across America expect their leaders and representatives to speak out and use every lever of government available to the minority to hold the majority and the administration accountable to the American people and to the Constitution.”
Amy Johanning, August 2017
And here is where someone might be insulted or offended: Trump supporters and I dare say, the Republican base at large would be much better served if they spent their time focused on their legislators and demanding that their Republican representatives hold themselves and their president accountable for their campaign promises. Instead, there seems to be a constant whiplash type “blame game” in which the party of “personal individual responsibility” has become the “party of responsibility abdication.”
Why did the Republican repeal and replace of Obamacare fail? Jeff Flake? Heller? Murkowski? McCain? The obstructionist Democrats? Depending on the conservative media outlet, any one of these individuals was the traitor to the cause. And what was the truth? The bill was a bad bill. It had less than a 20% approval rating. And yet, I suspect that there are memes circulated in the right wing blogosphere blaming this legislative failure on everyone from Obama to Hillary Clinton. It was a bad bill. Anyone who voted for one of them should have to answer for that vote in their next re-election campaign. That includes Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and all of the Republican leadership.
Second, when will the Republican base decide that their “good government,” rallying cry against “Crooked Hillary” must extend to this President? Let me be even clearer:
“Millions of Americans cast their ballots for Republicans and Donald Trump because they could not STAND the thought of Crooked Hillary Clinton in the White House. Despite millions of dollars in Congressional investigations without criminal charges filed and countless conspiracy theory nonsense in the blogosphere leading to NOTHING tangible, voters went to the polls with hate in their hearts and irrational lies in their head to vote for a man with no experience in governing, a man of questionable character and business acumen and with a history of sexual harassment and fraudulent business practices.
Eight months in, the pattern continues and I ask, ‘Where are the calls for investigations beyond Russia? Where are the investigations into the President and his family’s conflicts of interest? Where are the calls for an investigation into the decision to pardon Arpaio? And WHY are Trump supporters, the very people that chanted, “Lock Her Up” at the pep rallies, not demanding these ethical norms from their government?”
This weekend, several Republican Senators and party leaders released statements or tweeted their disapproval for the President’s decision to pardon Arpaio, including Arizona Senator’s Flake and McCain. McCain is undergoing treatment for brain cancer and so I hope that he really is doing the tweeting. It would mean that he is at least handling the treatments. McCain’s rebuke was much more forceful than Flake’s, but neither called for the Senate Judiciary Committee to look into the process by which the President made the decision to issue the Arpaio pardon.
With the report yesterday by the Washington Post that in the days after the inauguration, the President asked the Attorney General if the Department of Justice could drop the charges against the racist sheriff, it would sure seem to me that the Senate or House Justicial Oversight Committee might want to investigate. Yes, the President has the pardon power. But Congress has oversight responsibilities and they damn sure better use them. And yet, I did not see anything from GOP leadership, including Senator Grassley of Iowa, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Guys, tweets are 140 characters and while sure, you get a thumbs up for having your spokesperson draft a 140 character statement, scrub and circulate it, run it past your lawyers and then send it out under your name, you need to find a more constructive way to push back on the president. Investigating would be a good start. Not voting for his wretched policies would be another. The problem there is of course, that most of our Republican Senators and Congressmen agree with the President on policy, thus leaving the GOP with fewer options.
But how about the voters? Should not they be pushing back? The Republican base and Trump voters are hypocrites if they continue to stay silent. I think we all are to some extent but I think we can all agree that a line should be drawn at ethical, moral and criminal behavior. But it has been crickets whenever this President says or does something inflammatory and beyond the pale of human decency. Looking the other way on this Arpaio pardon is just one more example of Trump supporters caring more about hatred of Hillary Clinton and the “liberals” than what is truly best for their community and their nation. I am a liberal and I find it truly unfortunate that enough of my fellow citizens hate me so much and what they believe I “stand for” that they voted to put such a vile human being in the White House after it had been occupied by so many dignified Americans. It is either a testament to the level of human hate or ignorance; I am not sure which.
Finally, I am bothered by the analysts’ apparent surprise and discussion about what the Arpaio pardon means for the Russia investigation. Lots of air time was devoted to the discussion over “messages being sent to Mueller, witnesses, and subjects of investigation in the Russia probe” that they would not have to worry about charges. Trump would just pardon his way out of the Russia problem. Well duh! I said that to my TV months ago as did apparently Newt Gingrich (Not to his TV. He said it a FoX interviewer. Or so I heard. I do not watch Newt interviews anymore. He was always hard to listen to and now he is just disgusting). Of course, he will pardon his way out of the Russia probe. The issue will be whether any of his disgraced cronies or family members violated STATE laws (those are outside the scope of the Presidential pardon) and the constitutional crisis will emerge when he tries to pardon himself. That may be where the rubber meets the road and we see how Justice Gorsuch feels about the pardoning power of the presidency.
Nothing that happened in the political world this weekend was surprising and that, unfortunately, is what is most shocking to me. Fivethirtyeight.com monitors all public polling and has a proprietary algorithm that measures Presidential approval (among many other metrics). I check the website a couple of times per week and while it is true, Donald Trump’s approval rating has steadily gone down (it is now at 36.9%), the shocking reality is: 36.9% approve of the President’s job performance.
And so I go back to the question to the Trump supporter and Republican base: What is wrong with you? You voted for a man who pardoned “This Guy”: An 85-year-old man who over the last 20 years terrorized American citizens because of their race and ethnicity. A sheriff who built a tent – city “concentration camp” (his words) in which inmates had to live in heat up to 145 degrees. In the winter, they lived without heat and without weather appropriate clothing. They were sometimes fed contaminated food – an act about which the sheriff bragged. Women were forced to lie in their own menstrual blood. Prisoners died in his custody because in some cases, they were beaten and in others, their illnesses were ignored.
While he focused squarely on rounding up Hispanics, he and his deputies slow walked (at best) or ignored (at worst) more significant crimes, like rape and child molestation. So much for your “tough on crime” sheriff. He framed a mentally ill teenager for a supposed assassination plot against himself (Arpaio) in order to heighten his popularity in time for reelection and had a habit of using legal tricks to persecute anyone who criticized him or his tactics. Sound familiar?
His department cost the tax payers millions of dollars in legal bills and yet the white suburban voters re-elected him five times. Oh – and in case anyone is thinking, in the dark recesses of their brain, “well they were criminals, they should lie in their own menstrual blood and eat contaminated food,” I have two things to say to you:
1). Not all of these people were guilty. Some were citizens and not been charged with anything,
2). What kind of human being are you? Did you learn anything in church this morning?
I’m not surprised or shocked by the President. Anyone who paid any attention to his campaign rallies and his speeches knew that this is what we would get. Donald Trump has been a disgusting excuse for a human being for decades. There has never been any evidence to suggest a change now.
The surprise (or shock) continues to be our reaction to him. Democrats are decried by the right and chastised by the media for having no agenda other than being anti-Trump. The Republicans are clearly not holding the leader of their party accountable and so yes, the Democrats will. Their base expects it.
And while they could care less, I am deeply disappointed in the Trump and Republican base. The 36.9%. I am disgusted by the Christian leaders who have publicly supported him and revolted by the few that believe Trump is going to stop the war on Christianity. They are an embarrassment to the faith: Jerry Falwell Jr., Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson, that guy that works for Pat Robertson and goes on TV to defend Trump by bringing up how Democrats supported Bill Clinton in 1994 in a completely different situation. Always a winning defense. These men believe that God is working through Trump in the White House – but in a good way. I would love to hear my Sunday School teachers explain that one.
So Trump supporters, Republicans, and haters of the “left” (which you have never defined or described in any way other than ‘liberal’ – which is incredibly unhelpful), I am left with the question: What is wrong with you? Have you been brainwashed? Was there something put in your water? What did you read or hear that made you believe Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were evil? To what personal atrocity were you subjected? How do you see this Presidency ending? What is your ideal outcome? Do you want all liberals cast out of the country? Do you want all Hispanics and Muslims shot and tossed into the Grand Canyon? What is your ultimate objective here? Because at this point, that fucking 36.9% seems to be all that matters. Republican politicians are terrified of it and Trump is buoyed by it. And the 63.1% of us that see this President for what he is and starting to wonder if there is a little of him in you.
Amy, August 2017