WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump hinted over the weekend that he might issue Christmas-season pardons or commutations to two individuals whose stories have been featured on Fox News.
On Sunday, Trump used Twitter to urge supporters to watch a Fox News interview with Patti Blagojevich, the wife of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was sentenced to 14 years in prison on multiple corruption charges.
“Required television watching is last weeks @marthamaccallum interview with the wonderful wife of Rod Blagojevich,” Trump tweeted, referring to the Fox program “The Story with Martha MacCallum,” where Blagojevich advocated clemency for her husband.
Trump also announced on Twitter that he would review the case of “a ‘U.S. Military hero,’” Army Major Matt Golsteyn, who “could face the death penalty from our own government after he admitted to killing a Terrorist bomb maker while overseas.” That came after Fox News anchor Pete Hegseth interviewed Golsteyn’s wife.
In less than two years, Trump has granted seven pardons and four commutations — by skipping past the Justice Department’s bureaucracy, which is designed to protect executives from appearing to use this power for strictly political reasons or out of raw emotion.
“The advisory apparatus that has served the presidency well for over a hundred years has been rendered irrelevant,” warned former Department of Justice pardon attorney Margaret Colgate Love.
Experts on the pardon power are torn about Trump’s quickness to use it.
“The thing that’s really compelling about clemency,” said St. Thomas School of Law professor Mark Osler, “it’s the sole power of kings that resides in the presidency that the framers decided to retain.”
They did so, Osler said, because the pardon is about mercy and “you’re never going to become a tyrant by letting people out of jail.”
On the other hand, Trump’s freer and faster use of the pardon power seems “unqiue and somewhat lawless,” said Love. By lawless, she said she meant “irregular, not according to the rules.”
Trump was fast to issue his first pardon to former Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, in August 2017 on a contempt of court conviction. Observers were surprised Trump acted before Arpaio’s appeals had been adjudicated.
Like most of Trump’s pardon recipients, Arpaio appealed to Trump’s political base.
In June, Trump commuted the life-without-parole sentence of nonviolent drug offender Alice Marie Johnson, an African-American grandmother who had served more than two decades in prison.
Cynics scoffed because Trump acted after reality TV star Kim Kardashian came to the White House, but others saw a Republican president showing mercy outside his political base.
“He got a really warm reception for that, which he seemed to revel in,” said Osler. “My hope is that we will see more of that before Christmas.”
Contact Debra J. Saunders at email@example.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.