Jonathan Turley is not conservative. He’s not a die-hard Trump supporter at all. But he has his head on right. Unlike most in his field, he has not been infected with Trump derangement syndrome. He is a noted professor at George Washington University Law School. He testified before Congress over why the House Democrats’ impeachment push was a total legal shamble. As you’d expect, he was rarely called upon, but when he did speak, he expertly dissected the Left’s case for why Donald Trump should be impeached. Simply put, his argument was that there was no impeachable crime that Trump committed regarding Ukraine aid and he, like many, saw that the only reason why Democrats were going along with this circus is that they didn’t like the president.
Now, we have this uproar from liberals over Roger Stone’s commutation. Somehow this is new to members of the press. The presidential pardon and commutation have never been used to help friends of the president—that was the line that CNN’s legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin doled out. It’s CNN, so of course, it’s trash. Turley’s position was that Stone deserved another trial, not a pardon, and when it came to a commutation, that recommendation should have been left to Attorney General William Barr. He admits that Stone is a shady character and the activities he was convicted of engaging in certainly helped President Trump. I still think that Stone was the victim of a prosecution that was based on a lie, so his commutation was warranted, but Turley’s objections are certainly more reasonable and grounded than most we see from the liberal media sphere.
Turley added that the current criticism simply didn’t pass constitutional historical muster. He noted how Toobin called this commutation “the most corrupt and cronyistic act in all of recent history…This is simply not done by American presidents. They do not pardon or commute sentences of people who are close to them or about to go to prison. It just does not happen until this president.”
Yeah, Turley wasn’t going to let this slide. He may disagree with Stone’s commutation, but to call it unprecedented is historically illiterate. He describes why in five paragraphs of his op-ed in The Hill on this matter [emphasis mine]:
But criticism of this commutation immediately seemed to be decoupled from any foundation in history or in the Constitution.
In reality, the commutation of Stone barely stands out in the old gallery of White House pardons, which are the most consistently and openly abused power in the Constitution. This authority under Article Two is stated in absolute terms, and some presidents have wielded it with absolute abandon.
Thomas Jefferson pardoned Erick Bollman for violations of the Alien and Sedition Act in the hope that he would testify against rival Aaron Burr for treason. Andrew Jackson stopped the execution of George Wilson in favor of a prison sentence, despite the long record Wilson had as a train robber, after powerful friends intervened with Jackson. Wilson surprised everyone by opting to be hanged anyway. However, Wilson could not hold a candle to Ignazio Lupo, one of the most lethal mob hitmen who was needed back in New York during a mafia war. With the bootlegging business hanging in the balance, Warren Harding, who along with his attorney general, Harry Daugherty, was repeatedly accused of selling pardons, decided to pardon Lupo on the condition that he be a “law abiding” free citizen.
Franklin Roosevelt also pardoned political allies, including Conrad Mann, who was a close associate of Kansas City political boss Tom Pendergast. Pendergast made a fortune off illegal alcohol, gambling, and graft, and helped send Harry Truman into office. Truman also misused this power, including pardoning the extremely corrupt George Caldwell, who was a state official who skimmed massive amounts of money off government projects, like a building fund for Louisiana State University.
Richard Nixon was both giver and receiver of controversial pardons. He pardoned Jimmy Hoffa after the Teamsters Union leader had pledged to support his reelection bid. Nixon himself was later pardoned by Gerald Ford, an act many of us view as a mistake. To his credit, Ronald Reagan declined to pardon the Iran Contra affair figures, but his vice president, George Bush, did so after becoming president. Despite his own alleged involvement in that scandal, Bush still pardoned those other Iran Contra figures, such as Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger.
Bill Clinton committed some of the worst abuses of this power, including pardons for his brother Roger Clinton and his friend and business partner Susan McDougal. He also pardoned the fugitive financier Marc Rich, who evaded justice by fleeing abroad. Entirely unrepentant, Rich was a major Democratic donor, and Clinton had wiped away his convictions for fraud, tax evasion, racketeering, and illegal dealings with Iran.
Unlike many of these cases, there were legitimate questions raised about the Stone case. The biggest issue was that the foreperson of the trial jury was also actually a Democratic activist and an outspoken critic of Trump and his associates who even wrote publicly about the Stone case. Despite multiple opportunities to do so, she never disclosed her prior statements and actions that would have demonstrated such bias. Judge Amy Berman Jackson shrugged off all that, however, and refused to grant Stone a new trial, denying him the most basic protection in our system.
Despite my disagreement with the commutation, such a statement is almost charmingly quaint. The sordid history of White House pardons makes this commutation look positively chaste in comparison. https://t.co/vtoQMN8BVf— Jonathan Turley (@JonathanTurley) July 11, 2020
Mitt Romney seemed to echo Toobin's view in declaring this an "unprecedented, historic corruption." Again, I believe that decision was wrong on the merits and on the process. However, Romney and Toobin are wrong on the rather sordid history of presidential clemency decisions.— Jonathan Turley (@JonathanTurley) July 11, 2020
...despite Bush's executive clemency actions for six former senior government officials implicated in the Iran-Contra scandal, including former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. Bush himself was implicated in that scandal and some alleged was protected by their silence.— Jonathan Turley (@JonathanTurley) July 11, 2020
...pardoned Susan McDougal who might have implicated him in Whitewater. Nor was Clinton's pardoning of his own half brother or a fugitive Democratic donor staggering in any way. There was no statement of indignation, let alone a call from Pelosi for an investigation.— Jonathan Turley (@JonathanTurley) July 11, 2020
So, when Mitt Romney, the Senate’s most useless Republican, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke out on this commutation, Turley also took to Twitter to note how this move by Trump really isn’t a big deal. And he reminded them that McDougal was the one person who could have ensnared the Clintons further in Whitewater. In fact, as Turley noted, Pelosi really didn’t raise her voice over Clinton’s commutations, which were a million times more corrupt than this little one with Stone.