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Time To Amend The President’s Pardon And Clemency Powers

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

In the words of Michael Corleone, “Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in.”

The “they” in this case is now former President Barack Obama (damn, it feels good to write with the word “former” preceding it). I’d hope to be done writing about him, at least in current terms, but one last time he’s done something that requires addressing.

Obama’s magic pen was busy in his last days signing pardons and granting clemency to drug dealers, terrorists, and traitors alike. If you destroyed lives, Barack Obama wanted to set you free.

Setting aside the idea of non-violent drug dealers, it’s the release of traitor Bradley Manning and terrorist Oscar Lopez Rivera with which I have a problem. (I call Bradley Manning by his name because I choose to show him and his “gender identity” the same respect he showed his duty, our troops and allies, and our national security.)

First, let me say I don’t question any president’s right to pardon or commute sentences for anyone, generally. It’s a constitutionally granted power resting completely with the president, unfettered. It’s the unfettered part that is the issue.

It’s not who – any president can apply this power in any way they see fit – it’s the timing that is the problem.

Everyone knew these pardons and commutations were coming, they always come at the end of a president’s term. But coming at the end of a president’s term means zero accountability to the American people.

Brad Manning damaged this country and put the lives of many foreigners working with our military at risk. He violated the Espionage Act, not some local city ordinance.

Obama was free to commute his sentence, even for the fraudulent reason he gave at his press conference. Just as he was free to commute the sentence of unrepentant terrorist Oscar Rivera. But to do so without him or his party facing any repercussions from the public is simply wrong.

It’s not the first time a president issues controversial pardons and commutations on his way out the White House door. Former President Bill Clinton sold a pardon to fugitive tax cheat Marc Rich, who’d fled the country rather than face justice.

As with Obama, Clinton and his party never faced voters’ judgment of their actions because they were taken after the election. That is why there should be a change in the process, not the power, when it comes to the president’s ability to pardon and free prisoners.

The Constitution should be amended to limit the window of time in which a president can exercise this power.

The relevant part of Article II, Section 2, reads, “Shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.” It should be amended to read, “Shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment, from the day they assume office until two weeks before the presidential election. Should a president win a second term, this power is restored immediately. If they should lose, it shall not return until their successor assumes office.”

This would eliminate the midnight pardons and allow the American people to register their thoughts on presidential actions, either against that president or their party, at the ballot box. Had Barack Obama issued these orders before the 2016 election, Donald Trump may well have won the popular vote. At a minimum, Hillary Clinton would have had to weigh in on them, defending them or distancing herself from them, giving voters an opportunity to punish or reward her and her party.

As it stands now, what the American people think about freeing Manning and Rivera is irrelevant.

This power should not be stripped from the Executive Branch simply because it’s been abused, but it should be condensed by a few months. If a president can’t defend his or her actions, or fear the reaction from the people, maybe they shouldn’t engage in those actions.

There is no way Bill Clinton pardons Marc Rich before the 2000 election, just as there’s no way Barack Obama commutes the sentences of Bradley Manning and Oscar Rivera in the middle of October. They took these actions on their way out the door specifically because there was no way to hold them accountable. If a president does something because no one can stop them, maybe they shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.

The “power to grant reprieves and pardons” is an important one, but so is the responsibility of a president to justify their actions. The Constitution should be changed to reflect that.

An aside:

Since Obama set Manning’s release date for May, and there’s a chance he will have his sex change operation before then, President Donald Trump should expedite that release to be immediate. Taxpayers are on the hook for the bill of Manning’s surgery as long as he’s in prison. If he’s released, it’s on him. No doubt liberals will take up a collection to pay for it, and that’s fine. But this traitor has drained enough of our resources; time to make him or someone else on his behalf pony up.

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