What does his pardon portend?

What does his pardon portend?

No one can be surprised that President Trump pardoned Michael Flynn last week, said Elliott Williams in CNN.com. “But we can still be disgusted.” Flynn, you’ll recall, was Trump’s first national security adviser, whom he fired in 2017 when he was caught lying about his conversations with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak. 

Flynn later pleaded guilty, twice, to misleading FBI investigators about those same conversations, in which Flynn secretly assured Kislyak that Trump would “review” the sanctions President Obama had just slapped on Russia for meddling in the 2016 election in Trump’s behalf. 

The pardon is another Trump insult to “the rule of law,” said Paul Waldman and Greg Sargent in The Washington Post. Flynn not only lied about his dealings with the Russians, he also failed to disclose his $65,000 payment by Russia and $500,000 payment by Turkey— making our national security adviser a paid foreign agent. But as Trump’s campaign to discredit the “Russia hoax” gathered steam, his right-wing apologists adopted Flynn as “a victim of the socalled deep state.” So now he’s joined right-wing activist Dinesh D’Souza, former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and Roger Stone in the “rogues’ gallery” of crooks rewarded with pardons or commutations for being “one of Trump’s guys.” Actually, Flynn’s pardon “is justly deserved,” said Abe Greenwald in CommentaryMagazine.com. His conversations with Kislyak were standard back-channel diplomacy for an incoming administration but turned into a “Kafkaesque nightmare.” Only when special counsel Robert Mueller, desperate for Trump-team scalps, threatened to prosecute Flynn’s son did Flynn Sr. plead guilty. 

Protecting citizens from vindictive prosecutors and judges—“mitigation from the rigour of the law,” as Alexander Hamilton put it—was the Founders’ explicit goal in crafting the pardon power, said John Yoo in NationalReview.com. And it “does not contain an exception for pardons that appear to benefit the president.” The Flynn pardon was not an act of mercy, said David Frum in TheAtlantic.com. It’s part of Trump’s attempt to “save himself.” Flynn’s chat with Kislyak wasn’t itself a crime. So “why lie?” The likely explanation is that Flynn—like Jeff Sessions, who lied to Congress about his own talks with Kislyak—had a sense “there was some terrible truth about Russia that Trump would want concealed,” and that the campaign’s frequent contact with Russians—“a group secret”—was “lethally radioactive.” Flynn originally agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s investigators but suddenly changed his mind and clammed up. 

Stone had his sentence commuted by Trump after being convicted of lying about his contacts with WikiLeaks and a Russian hacker. Former campaign manager Paul Manafort went to prison after also refusing to reveal the truth about his own Russian contacts. Trump bought their silence in a successful cover-up and is now paying up. “Trump’s lame-duck pardon shenanigans are only getting started,” said Andrew Prokop in Vox.com. 

Trump is reportedly mulling preemptive pardons for Don Jr., Eric, Ivanka, and Jared Kushner, as well as Rudy Giuliani. Trump might even pardon himself, although he has no power over possible New York state prosecutions. Flynn’s is hardly the first corrupt presidential pardon, said Austin Sarat in USA Today. Bill Clinton, for example, pardoned fugitive tax-cheat Marc Rich at the request of Rich’s ex-wife, a major Democratic donor. Ultimately, the only check on this awesome power is the electorate. If we don’t want presidents granting corrupt, self-serving pardons, we must elect presidents with the “character and wisdom” not to do so.