Before returning the keys to the White House, Donald Trump distributes the gifts to his relatives. A few hours before the inauguration of Joe Biden, Wednesday, January 20, the outgoing President of the United States granted pardon to dozens of personalities, including his former political advisor Steve Bannon. The billionaire also shortened the length of sentences for 70 other people, without erasing the sentence. Franceinfo returns to the subject in five questions.
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1How many people has he pardoned?
A total of 73 people have received a full pardon from the outgoing president and another 70 have had their sentences reduced. The press release published Wednesday by the White House is 12 pages long on word processing software. The personalities listed have been convicted or prosecuted for different reasons: some for trafficking in cannabis or cocaine, for robbery or attempted robbery, others for embezzlement or violation of the laws on weapons.
Each paragraph that accompanies the name of a personality who has benefited from this final favor from Donald Trump returns to the facts with which he is accused, before insisting on the reasons which motivated the American billionaire to grant him his forgiveness. A prisoner sentenced to 14 years in prison for cocaine trafficking is thus hired for the “important work accomplished during his incarceration and his notable achievements in the field of education, (…) which show that he took advantage of the time of his sentence to maximize his chances of being a productive citizen upon his release”.
2Who are the main beneficiaries?
Steve Bannon. He is undoubtedly the figure of the most famous list in France. A former board member of Cambridge Analytica, a company that had hijacked the personal data of tens of millions of Facebook users for political propaganda, he rose to global notoriety in 2016, when he became the strategist of Donald Trump during his first presidential campaign. Become an adviser to the president at the White House, he was then pushed towards the exit by the billionaire. His electoral success had however allowed him to be the star guest of Marine Le Pen at the 2018 National Front congress, before the former French presidential candidate distanced himself from him.
Unlike the overwhelming majority of personalities pardoned by Donald Trump, Steve Bannon has not yet been tried. In August, he was indicted and arrested by federal prosecutors in Manhattan, on suspicion of having embezzled a million dollars (822,000 euros) from a fundraising intended to finance the construction of the wall dear to Donald Trump on the border between the United States and Mexico. He had pleaded not guilty.
Elliott Broidy. A former Republican Party finance official, for whom he was a major fundraiser, he was also close to Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign. He pleaded guilty in October to having acted as a“unregistered foreign agent”, admitting to accepting money to secretly pressure the US administration for Chinese and Malaysian interests. In its press release, the White House praises “his many philanthropic actions, notably on behalf of law enforcement, military programs and veterans and the Jewish community”.
Anthony Levandowski. Ex-engineer at Google, Anthony Levandowski pleaded guilty to stealing more than 14,000 files concerning a secret technology of the company on its autonomous cars, before resigning to obtain a strategic position in this field at Uber.
In August, justice had sentenced this forty-something to 18 months in prison. The San Francisco judge who pronounced the sentence, used to settling disputes in Silicon Valley for nearly 50 years, then mentioned “the biggest trade secret crime [qu’il n’ait] never seen”, BBC reported. Donald Trump has obviously retained something else from the judgment: the White House press release notes that “the judge who condemned him described him in particular as ‘brilliant revolutionary engineer our country needs’ ” and that Anthony Levandowski had “paid a significant price for his actions and now plans to devote his talents to the advancement of the public good”.
Lil Wayne. Rapper Lil Wayne, real name Dwayne Michael Carter, pleaded guilty in federal court last December for illegal possession of a firearm. The author of the tube To Milli, winner of four Grammy Awards in 2009, was due in March in Florida and faced up to 10 years in prison. On October 29, Lil Wayne tweeted a photo of himself with Donald Trump.
Just had a great meeting with @realdonaldtrump @potus besides what he’s done so far with criminal reform, the platinum plan is going to give the community real ownership. He listened to what we had to say today and assured he will and can get it done. pic.twitter.com/Q9c5k1yMWf
– Lil Wayne WEEZY F (@LilTunechi) October 29, 2020
3Is this a first for Donald Trump?
No. In recent months, Donald Trump has already used this presidential power and exonerated collaborators and relatives. On December 23, he had thus pardoned about thirty people, including Paul Manafort, his ex-campaign manager in 2016, and his former adviser Roger Stone, both implicated in the investigation into a possible collusion between Russia and his campaign team.
At the end of December, he also granted his pardon to two other personalities involved in this investigation: a former diplomatic adviser, George Papadopoulos, and a Dutch lawyer, Alex van der Zwaan. And in November, he had already amnestied Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser, convicted in particular of having lied to FBI investigators in this case.
All these men had one thing in common: they never cooperated with investigators to protect the Republican billionaire, as the elected Democrat Adam Schiff, chairman of the House of Representatives intelligence committee, recalled at the time.
Donald Trump had also pardoned in mid-December four former agents of the sulphurous private security company Blackwater, found guilty of the murder of 14 Iraqi civilians in 2007 in Baghdad. The White House then claimed that the four men, all former soldiers, had “a long history of service to the nation”.
4Can he still pardon himself?
Indicted for “inciting an insurgency” after calling on his supporters to march on Congress, Donald Trump could have been tempted to pardon himself, which he did not do. Could he have risked it? As such a maneuver has never been carried out by an outgoing president, the Supreme Court has not had the opportunity to rule on the legality of such a procedure.
In the meantime, the American constitutionalists are tearing each other apart, report the New York Times. Some jurists believe that the American Constitution is sufficiently vague to authorize this type of maneuver, while others argue that since the supreme text specifically uses the term of“grant” a pardon or a reduction of sentence, the president cannot himself target by one of these measures.
In August 1974, an official of the Ministry of Justice had issued legal advice (PDF) affirming that“it would seem” that an American president could not pardon himself “by virtue of the fundamental rule that no one can be judge of his own case”. But that didn’t stop Donald Trump from tweeting in June 2018 that he had “absolutely right” to do. In any case, the billionaire would retain this hypothetical prerogative only until the official end of his mandate, that is to say until Wednesday noon (6 p.m. in Paris). But sources close to the case cited by the New York Times indicate that it is now unlikely that the billionaire would choose this option.
5Did he pardon more people than his predecessors?
No, but that can partly be explained by the fact that he only served as president. During the 47 and a half months of his tenure, Donald Trump pardoned 116 people and reduced the sentences of 89 others, according to official statistics from the US Department of Justice. A pace that accelerated during his last weeks at the White House, since between 2017 and 2020, the billionaire had only granted 27 pardons and 11 reductions in sentence.
Barack Obama, who has spent twice as much time in the White House, pardoned 212 people, including military member Chelsea Manning, sentenced to 35 years in prison for having transmitted confidential documents to WikiLeaks. However, Donald Trump’s predecessor largely broke records for the number of reduced sentences, commuting the sentences of 1,715 people.
George W. Bush had for his part pardoned 189 people and reduced the sentence of 11 others. With 396 pardons in two terms, Bill Clinton finally holds the record in this area.