In 1517 Martin Luther nailed his “95 Theses” to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, inadvertently giving birth to the Protestant Reformation. He did this mainly to protest against what he saw as the corruption in the church, principally in the sale of “indulgences.”
At the time there was a papal decree, similar to the pardon power granted by the US Constitution to the President, that gave Pope Leo X the power to cancel or more often, reduce, a sinner’s spiritual debt and thus be promoted from Purgatory to Paradise more quickly.
Recently, there has been a lot of talk about President Donald Trump granting pardons– to others, to his family, and even to himself. Granting the “presidential pardons” is not unusual, all outgoing presidents do it. But not all do it to the same degree.
Media reports indicate that Trump is contemplating granting pre-emptive pardons to his children, Jared Kushner and Rudy Giuliani. This type of pardon is granted prior to any indictment, giving clemency for past but not future crimes. Gerald Ford granted Richard Nixon a pre-emptive pardon and Jimmy Carter granted pre-emptive pardons to all draft dodgers of the Vietnam War.
Trump has even said that he could pardon himself. Although the U.S. Constitution does not specifically say that a President cannot pardon himself, no President has ever attempted to actually do it, so this theory has never been tested as to its constitutionality.
Should the President pre-emptively pardon himself and the Supreme Court subsequently decide that a self-pardon is unconstitutional, Trump could face numerous federal prosecutions.
However, if Trump should resign the presidency on his penultimate day in office, then Mike Pence would become the 46th President of the United States—even if for a day. Pence’s one and only purpose as President for a day would be to pre-emptively pardon Donald Trump for any and all past federal crimes, although Trump could still face state prosecutions since the President can only pardon federal offenses.
According to the Washington Post federal prosecutors are investigating whether two individuals were involved in a scheme to give cash in the form of a political contribution in return for a presidential pardon by President Trump for a defendant currently in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Furthermore, in a story published today in The New York Times we learn that, “Court documents unsealed Tuesday by a federal judge revealed the Justice Department was investigating the matter as recently as August.”
Since the President already has absolute power to grant pardons and commutations, the only way to corrupt this otherwise legal authority is to sell it. Why would someone engage in corruption and even attempt to offer a bribe to buy clemency from Donald Trump?
Well, on October 19, at a campaign rally in Prescott, Arizona, Trump described a hypothetical situation where he could raise millions of dollars in donations by doing favors for companies that make political contributions to his campaign. He stated, “I would raise a billion dollars in one day, if I wanted to…So I call the head of Exxon… Hi, how are you doing? How’s energy coming? Oh, you need a couple of permits, huh? Okay.” Was this “hypothetical” anecdote a subliminal message–aka a “dog whistle”– by Trump to prospective pardon-seekers suggesting a potential path to clemency?
I’m not sure, but history has shown us that people have paid corrupt Popes for “salvation” and similarly, some are willing to pay corrupt politicians for clemency.
On Bill Clinton’s last day in office he pardoned Marc Rich, who was indicted for federal tax evasion and participating in oil sales to Iran in 1980, when Iran held American hostages. It was later revealed that his wife Denise Rich, had given a million dollars to the Democratic Party and the Clinton Presidential Center and Park. Bill Clinton also pardoned his brother Roger Clinton who had already served prison time for the distribution of cocaine.
According to the Associated Press, Trump also pardoned Paul Pogue who pleaded guilty to federal tax evasion. Significantly, Pogue’s family had donated $200,000 to Trump’s presidential campaign.
Michael Milken, who was convicted of securities fraud and conspiracy, was pardoned by Donald Trump with a little advocacy help from Sheldon Adelson and wife Miriam, who have donated more than $200 million dollars to the GOP. Incidentally, Miriam Adelson subsequently received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Should that surprise us? Trump’s business history has shown that he will try to profit from everything, including the power of the presidency.
However, Trump has already granted over 35 pardons or commutations; some not so much for financial gain as for political capital, self-interest, or simply to spite his opponents. Among the most notable in this rogues’ gallery are former Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, Joe Arpaio, former Governor of Illinois Rod Blagojevich, and the short-lived National Security Adviser, Michael T. Flynn. The latter received what has been called “an extremely broad reprieve from any possible crimes he might have committed connected to special counsel Robert Mueller’s two-year investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.”
The corruption of the Renaissance Popes, Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borja) and Leo X (Giovanni de Medici) with the rampant abuse of nepotism, profit and power is eerily similar to that of President Donald Trump XLV.
Trump has given his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner high level advisory positions in his administration. Trump and his family have profited from his Presidency, in direct violation of the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution that specifically prohibits a President from profiting from his position while in office. And Trump’s autocratic personality and vise-like grip on the Republican Senate and the Attorney General’s office that has up to now, always been independent of the President, demonstrates his desire for power and control.
Does America need a modern day Martin Luther to post a “95 Theses” on the door of Donald Trump’s oval office to spark an anti-corruption reformation?