President Donald Trump and his administration may ultimately be recorded as the most corrupt in American presidential history.
Since assuming the presidency, Donald Trump has issued five pardons—one of those was a posthumous pardon granted to the legendary boxer John Arthur “Jack” Johnson. Three of the remaining four were granted to individuals—former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, former vice-presidential chief of state Lewis “Scooter” Libby, and conservative blogger/author Dinesh D’Souza—who either supported the president or share his extreme brand of political conservatism. He has indicated he will probably pardon some of his fellow television celebrity friends who ran afoul of the law. D’Souza pleaded guilty in federal court and was sentenced eight months house arrest, hardly the kind of rough treatment he now claims.
The pardons for Arpaio/Libby/D’Souza were issued by Trump because the president stated that each of the political conservatives had been treated unfairly by a liberal and corrupt criminal justice system. None of these three pardons, or the other two, followed established U.S. Justice Department protocols governing the exercise of executive clemency powers which have been in place since 1893.
The Republican leadership in Congress and its member have yet to criticize Trump for his abuse of his executive powers, even though they made it a religion to criticize former President Barak Obama for his “liberal expansion” of executive powers, going so far as to call him an “emperor.”
Power to Pardon
Article II, Section 2, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution vests with the president the power to pardon. There have been many controversial pardons issued by American presidents over the last five decades: President Nixon pardoned Jimmy Hoffa; President Ford pardoned Richard Nixon; President Carter pardoned G. Gordon Liddy; President Clinton pardoned his brother, Roger, and Susan McDougal, Marc Rich, and Henry Cisneros.
Inherent in the power to pardon, either at the federal or state level, is the temptation for corruption—the exchange of a pardon for money, sex, furniture, jewelry, influence, campaign contributions, to family or friends.
Texas’ Own: Ma and Pa Ferguson
Former Texas Gov. Ma Ferguson used her pardon powers 2000 times during her first term in office in the 1920s. One reported story about Gov. Ferguson’s corrupt use of her pardon powers goes like this: the father of a convicted criminal asked Gov. Ferguson’s husband, Pa Ferguson, for help in getting a pardon for his son. Pa Ferguson responded by saying he had a horse he wanted to sell for $5000, The felon’s father asked Pa why would be want to pay $5000 for such a horse, to which Pa replied, “Well, I figure your son might ride him home from the penitentiary if you bought him.”
The Fergusons were routinely accused of taking bribes, cash and land in exchange for Ma Ferguson liberal use of the pardon pen. Pa Ferguson was actually elected Texas governor before Ma was. In fact, Pa became the first governor in Texas to be indicted for a criminal offense while in office. Writing for KUT News in 2014, Jennifer Stayton said:
“Apparently [Pa] had a bit of a ‘I am the king’ personality and didn’t take no for an answer, and expected people, as governor, to do his bidding and [not] question anything. He [was] like a lot of people who really kind of love power too much. He was really guilty of overreach.”
Pa was Impeached
In 1917, the Texas Senate’s High Court of Impeachment had enough of Pa Ferguson. The body impeached him and threw him out of office. Seven years later Ma Ferguson waltzed into the Texas Governor’s Mansion with the help of her husband, Pa. She was ready to pardon for cash.
The Fergusons used their gubernatorial powers to corrupt the pardon system for personal gain—the original kind of pay-to-play politics.
What Will Become of Trump?
But President Trump is another political breed. While he engages every day in pay-to-play corruption, as evidenced by his Washington, D.C. hotel and Mar-a-Lago, he is using his presidential powers far beyond simple pay-to-play corruption devices. He is an egomaniacal authoritarian with Mussolini-like fascist tendencies. An American president is elected to share power, not possess, much less exercise, absolute power as Trump and his cronies believe he should do.
There have been 22 criminal indictments returned against individuals or companies directly or indirectly associated with Trump personally, his campaign or his administration. The president himself, his personal attorney, and a slew of other “supporters”, like D’Souza, decry these indictments and related investigations official witch hunts or byproducts of fake news. He has effectively created his own authoritarian vocabulary to either change or alter the definition of corruption and criminal wrongdoing.
The new norm in Washington is that if the president or any of his cronies commit a crime, it is not criminal. It’s a witch hunt.
The fact that there is rampant speculation—fueled by Trump’s incessant attacks on the FBI, Justice Department and the Special Counsel’s office—that the president is using his pardon power to send a message to any and all witnesses who may be able to directly or indirectly link him to Russian collusion, criminal financial dealings, or political corruption. The message is simple; if they remain criminally loyal to him, he will pardon them should they come under criminal indictment or conviction. This sad reality underscores the new political norm in the nation’s capital.
While it is generally believed that the president’s power to pardon is absolute, Duke University Law Professor Samuel W. Buell does not believe it is unlimited.
“The framers did not create the power to pardon as a way for the president to protect himself and his associates” from being prosecuted for their own criminal behavior, Buell told the Washington Monthly’s Martin Longman this past March.”
To believe otherwise would mean that any and every one in Trump’s family or political orbit could commit any crime they want and be free of any criminal justice liability through the president’s pardon pen. Even King George could not have prepared the framers for Donald J. Trump.
Impeachment Necessary to Protect the Union
President Trump is on a deliberate course to turn the nation’s White House into a Ma and Pa Ferguson type Mansion. The only thing that will save this nation from the political corruption and abuse of power unleashed by this president is for the Republican Party to decide that he should receive the same political fate as James “Pa” Ferguson received in 1917.