The Volokh Conspiracy

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Judge Robert Pratt (S.D.IA) : "It's not surprising that a criminal like Trump pardons other criminals"

"But apparently to get a pardon, one has to be either a Republican, a convicted child murderer or a turkey."


Last week, President Trump issued a batch of pardons, which I flagged here. Two of the pardons concerned Ron Paul's 2012 presidential campaign:

John Tate and Jesse Benton  President Trump granted John Tate and Jesse Benton full pardons.  This action is supported by Senator Rand Paul and Lee Goodman, former Chairman of the Federal Election Commission. Both Mr. Tate and Mr. Benton were convicted based on indirect campaign payments to a state Senator.  According to Mr. Goodman, the reporting law violated was unclear and not well established at the time. Each individual received 6 months home confinement and 2 years' probation.

Trump did not pardon Kent Sorenson, who was also implicated in those offenses. In 2015, Sorenson plead guilty to concealing payments from the Paul campaign, and obstructive justice. Two years later, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pratt sentenced Sorenson to two years in prison.

Apparently, the Associated Press called Pratt about the pardons of Tate and Benton–even though he did not preside over those cases. The only link was Sorenson. The AP was really, really digging, hoping some judge, any judge, would say something about Trump. Regrettably, Judge Pratt opened up.

A federal judge in Iowa who has warned against political corruption is ridiculing President Trump's pardons, including those issued to convicted Republican campaign operatives and former members of Congress.

"It's not surprising that a criminal like Trump pardons other criminals," senior U.S. District Judge Robert Pratt of the Southern District of Iowa told The Associated Press a brief phone interview Monday. In a bit of humor, he said: "But apparently to get a pardon, one has to be either a Republican, a convicted child murderer or a turkey."

These comments are utterly inappropriate. He called the President a "criminal." I understand that blue checkmarks see no problem with liberally libeling Trump as a criminal, even though there has been no final conviction, let alone any criminal charges. But a federal judge must know better. The presumption of innocence is a bedrock principle of our judicial system. If this was an attempt at humor, Judge Pratt failed, miserably. And really, his comment makes no sense. The only people who receive pardons are criminals. Of course the President pardons criminals. The fact that every President has pardoned a criminal does not make the President a criminal. (Update: The pardoned Blackwater contractors were in fact convicted of murdering children). There are also many people who were incarcerated for drug offenses who are almost certainly not Republicans. Judge Pratt should be embarrassed.

Pratt also made a gratuitous comment about the Emoluments Clauses–an issue that is currently pending before the Supreme Court:

He noted that the framers of the U.S. constitution sought to stop U.S. officials from "enriching themselves" while in office by banning gifts and payments from foreign powers. Ongoing lawsuits have accused Trump of illegally profiting off the presidency through his luxury Washington hotel. A White House spokesman declined comment on Pratt's remarks.

What is wrong with federal judges? Trump derangement syndrome has permeated Article III. Judge Pratt should follow the lead of Judge Adelman, and apologize before he is sanctioned.

I suppose the one plus side of this incident is that only one judge–so far–was willing to talk to the press. I hope there are not more. Judges should never, ever, talk to reporters.