flurry of pardons and grants of clemency this week are being denounced far and wide, and many of them appear to be undeserved, or worse. But the critics would have more credibility if they tried to understand why tens of millions of Americans will discount these as the
Mr. Weissmann is the former deputy to special counsel
on the Russia collusion probe. He’s a Democratic partisan who can be seen even now on MSNBC suggesting that Mr. Trump obstructed justice in the probe that never turned up evidence of collusion. He and his fellow prosecutors spent two years, with the full resources of the federal government, trying to prove a case that didn’t exist.
Instead they indicted individuals in the Trump orbit of crimes unrelated to their main purpose. They pursued
on a foreign-lobbying statute that is rarely enforced and then turned up evidence of tax fraud. They coerced
Alex van der Zwaan
into copping pleas on a single count of making false statements.
was convicted of obstructing a Congressional investigation.
Mr, Manafort’s tax offenses are serious crimes, and that’s how a jury saw them. He and Mr. Stone, former business partners, have long been political scoundrels of the type Mr. Trump likes to have around him. But there’s no doubt they were targeted not for their specific offenses but because they associated with Mr. Trump. Prosecutors were out to get Mr. Trump—many of them still are—and they were happy to take down others in the hope they would have evidence against the President.
Yet the targeted men had nothing to offer beyond what prosecutors turned up from other sources. It was inevitable that Mr. Trump would pardon these former associates before he left office. If the good and righteous want to avoid political pardons, they should be more critical of political prosecutions.
These points don’t apply to the pardons for former GOP CongressmenDuncan Hunter and
Both men admitted to violating the public trust and at most deserved to have their sentences commuted, not to have their convictions expunged.
The pardons of four Blackwater security guards convicted of killing civilians in Iraq are also hard to justify. It reminds us of Mr. Trump’s previous intervention to save the Trident pin for Navy Seal team chief Eddie Gallagher, whose peers refused to defend his behavior. These decisions show disrespect for American soldiers who must be disciplined under great stress on the battlefield.
The pardons that most seem to exercise the Washington political class, however, are those related to the Mueller-Weissmann probe. And on those they might contemplate their own complicity. The Russia collusion saga has damaged American trust in government institutions far more than its promoters recognize. Their refusal to admit its damage, and their own role in it, feeds the cynicism that Mr. Trump is only too happy to exploit.
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Appeared in the December 26, 2020, print edition.