Republican Convention 2020

Trump Pardons Inmate-Turned-Activist Jon Ponder and Praises 'Second Chances'

"I will continue to give all Americans, including former inmates, the best chance to build a new life and achieve their own American dream," Trump said.

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President Donald Trump pardoned Jon Ponder, a formerly incarcerated man who now runs a nonprofit to help others coming out of prison, in a video recorded Tuesday.

The video played at the Republican National Convention (RNC) Tuesday night during a program that focused on Trump's record on criminal justice reform

"I will continue to give all Americans, including former inmates, the best chance to build a new life and achieve their own American dream," Trump said.

Ponder is the founder of Hope for Prisoners, a Nevada nonprofit that offers support services and training to formerly incarcerated people. Trump met with Ponder at the 2018 National Day of Prayer at the White House, and the president was a guest speaker at a Hope for Prisoners graduation ceremony in February. 

Trump's pardon wipes away a federal bank robbery conviction from Ponder's record.

"Today, praise God, I am filled with hope," Ponder said. "A proud American citizen who has been given a second chance. My transformation began in a prison cell, while I found myself a three-time convicted felon facing yet another sentence. I gave my life to Jesus."

The pardon was the latest in a string of high-profile commutations and pardons by Trump. Alice Johnson, a former federal inmate who was serving life in prison before Trump commuted her sentence in 2018, is also expected to speak at the RNC.

But while criminal justice advocates have applauded pardons and commutations issued in deserving cases like those, there have been criticisms that the Justice Department's Office of the Pardon Attorney, the regular office that handles clemency applications, has been sidelined. The Washington Post found the vast majority of the pardons and commutations under Trump have gone to cases that caught his attention on TV or were brought to him personally by advocates or celebrities.

At a July 13 White House press briefing, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was asked specifically about Ponder's possible pardon and the neglect of regular clemency applications.

"It's absolutely not the case that only those who are politically connected get a pardon. This president is the president of criminal justice reform," McEnany responded. "This president did the FIRST STEP Act. This president has fought for those who are given unduly harsh sentences more than any Democrat who like to talk about it but never actually did it."

Trump's tendency to pardon his cronies has led to some calls to restrict the executive's pardon powers, but that would be a terrible mistake. There are thousands more Jon Ponders and Alice Johnsons in the federal prison system, many of them passed over by the Obama administration's clemency initiative. Precious few of them have the sort of connections to get their case to the president's ears. If Trump wants to show he will fight for their second chances—and isn't just putting on a show or helping his pals—he can and should prove it.

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  1. “there have been criticisms that the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney, the regular office that handles clemency applications, has been sidelined. The Washington Post found the vast majority of the pardons and commutations under Trump have gone to cases that caught his attention on TV or were brought to him personally by advocates or celebrities”

    As opposed to the flood of pardon recommendations sent his way by the Office of the Pardon Attorney? That office is something of a roadblock – one of the Volokh contributors suggested a constitutional amendment requiring pardon applications to go through this office – precisely *because* this would limit the number of pardons.

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    3. Yeah, how can you criticize a guy for issuing pardons that are brought to his attention by others, as opposed to, what, personally scouring prisons on the weekends?

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  2. I told you guys yesterday… Trump is making a big play to split the black vote.

    Yesterday was close friend Herschel Walker and SC senator Tim Scott. Today you have an evangelical redemption story that goes right to the heart of criminal justice reform. And then you have the Kentucky AG going after Biden hard on race.

    The redemption story was also a direct contrast to last week. Pundits kept telling me how huge the story of Biden talking to a stuttering kid last fall was. It shows his empathy and what a great guy he is. Several said it was the seminal moment and a moment Trump could not answer.

    Out comes Trump with good old fashioned born again testimony. One that he features prominently in and actually participated in over a long period of time … a story that involves real policy issues, not just “hey, he was nice to a kid”. His story was powerful… it could easily be featured at any evangelical church on Sunday. And Trump completes the redemption with a pardon on prime time TV.

    The media was in panic mode. CNN called it cynical. By the end of the night, the talking points had shifted…. do not mention this guy beyond a passing reference. Talk about how Trump is destroying the presidency. Talk about how we have never in history had a secretary of state who was political.

    They know that Trump is hitting notes that are resonating.

    1. They also hit school choice hard again. Definitely targeting black voters.

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  5. Trump will have around 12-13% of the black vote this November.

    1. He is polling higher than that.

      https://onenewsnow.com/politics-govt/2020/07/24/polls-more-black-voters-choosing-racist-trump

      And that’s before the lineup from this convention.

  6. >>there have been criticisms

    duh. T does good, people whine it wasn’t their idea.

  7. Now can he pardon a white man, for balance?

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