The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent


Trump's Pattern of Self-Serving Pardons Continues

President Trump's use of the pardon power confirms Anti-Federalist fears more than did his predecessors'.


Throughout his presidency, Donald Trump has been more stingy and self-serving in his use of the Pardon Power. He has provided pardons or clemency less often than his predecessors, and he has been more likely to issue pardons in ways that serve his self-interest, such as by pardoning political and personal allies and celebrities, including Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner's father.

The pattern has continued through Trump's pre-Christmas Pardon-palooza. As analysis by Harvard Law's Jack Goldsmith and Matthew Gluck shows, Trump continues to use the power to serve his own self interest. Their data, collected here, finds the following (as of 12/24):

  • Trump has issued 94 pardons and commutations;
  • 68 of the 94 advance his political agenda;
  • 40 of 94 recipients had a personal connection to the President;
  • 20 of the 94 had some sort of celebrity status;
  • 86 of the 94 had some sort of personal or political connection to the President;
  • Only 7 of the 94 appear to have been recommended by the DOJ Office of the Pardon Attorney.

Even though these pardons are self-serving, and some even appear to be rewards to those who refused to provide evidence against the President in various investigations, these are all lawful uses of the power. Even pardons granted for corrupt purposes are valid (though actions taken to secure a pardon may be unlawful). Yet while Trump may issue pardons to protect himself, he cannot issue a self-pardon, for reasons I explained here.

UPDATE: For a different take on the data, see this thread.