Think of it as the administrative equivalent of sneering. Or think of it as a male dominance thing. The lesser male members of the pack must be made to feel emasculated and become submissive to the sole alpha male. The lesser male members of the pack must whimper, dramatically, to show their shame to all. It’s a sexual thing. They will have no mates. Or just think of it as Donald Trump issuing pardons with a grin and sneer:
President Trump on Tuesday used his sweeping presidential pardon powers to forgive the crimes of a list of boldface names including disgraced politician Rod R. Blagojevich, convicted junk bond king Michael Milken and former New York police commissioner Bernard Kerik.
Trump pardoned or commuted the sentences of seven convicted white-collar criminals at the center of federal anti-corruption and tax fraud cases spanning decades, alongside four women whose cases were not as well known.
So, if people want to poke around in Trump’s taxes, looking for tax fraud of some kind, this was his message. He thinks that’s bullshit. Tax fraud is no big deal. That’s something that the “little people” will never understand. That was the sneering massage, but this was odd:
The action frees Blagojevich, the former Democratic governor of Illinois, from the federal correctional facility in Colorado where he was serving out his 14-year sentence. He was convicted on corruption charges in 2011 for trying in 2008 to sell President-elect Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat.
“He’ll be able to go back home with his family after serving eight years in jail,” Trump told reporters. “That was a tremendously powerful, ridiculous sentence in my opinion and in the opinion of many others.”
Who were the many others? He hinted at Fox News. But he was there to remind everyone that he has power and they don’t:
Tuesday’s clemency announcements came as Trump has been flexing his power in recent days after being acquitted by the Senate on two impeachment charges. The president has removed from their jobs witnesses who testified against him and publicly weighed in on criminal cases concerning his associates while also dismissing the idea that his actions have crossed ethical or legal lines.
That was the message, that now he can do any damned thing he wants, and he, not the courts, decides who is guilty or not:
The pardons and commutations focus on the type of corruption and lying charges his associates were convicted of as part of the Russia investigation, once again raising the question of whether he will pardon former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and longtime adviser and friend Roger Stone. Trump said he hadn’t thought about pardoning those three but made clear he wasn’t happy with the cases brought against them.
“I think Roger Stone has been treated unfairly. I think General Flynn has been treated very unfairly,” he told reporters. “I think a lot of people have been treated very unfairly.”
And he (almost) alone decides that:
The executive actions announced Tuesday fit a pattern of highly personal presidential justice that largely bypasses the traditional pardon process administered by the Justice Department. Most of the people who have received clemency under Trump have been well-connected offenders who had a line into the White House or currency with his political base.
Milken received a pardon with the White House providing a long list of advocates for the wealthy financier, including Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, political donors Miriam and Sheldon Adelson, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
Milken became a symbol of the culture of greed during the 1980s that was fictionalized in movies such as “Wall Street,” where Michael Douglas plays ruthless financier Gordon Gekko, who declares that “greed is good.”
Oliver Stone presented that as awful – Michael Douglas portrayed a moral monster in his movie. This crowd saw him as the one true hero in that movie. But then there’s real life:
Milken rose to prominence for his role in developing high-interest-bearing securities markets, known as junk bonds, before pleading guilty in 1990 to six felony counts, including securities fraud, mail fraud and aiding in the filing of a false tax return.
He did those things. That’s what winners do. That bothers the little people. That bothers Democrats. And they’re both hopeless. They’ll never get it. Bribes and tax fraud make the world go ’round:
Also on Trump’s pardon list were Kerik, who was convicted of tax fraud, and Edward DeBartolo Jr., the billionaire former owner of the San Francisco 49ers football team, who pleaded guilty two decades ago to charges related to his role in a corruption case against former Louisiana governor Edwin W. Edwards (D).
The president also pardoned David Safavian, a senior official in the George W. Bush administration who was convicted of obstructing a federal investigation as part of the scandal surrounding lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and two lesser-known business executives, technology executive Ariel Friedler and construction company executive Paul Pogue, who were convicted of computer and tax charges.
And now they don’t have a worry in the world, but they knew they never would:
Kerik is a frequent visitor to the president’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida and recently posted a picture at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, tagging the president and bragging of “Badassry” there. He declined to comment. Safavian now works at the Trump-aligned American Conservative Union Foundation’s justice center and attacks Trump critics through his Twitter account. Blagojevich’s wife lobbied for her husband’s release, including going on Fox News to make her case.
Blagojevich and Trump were well acquainted from when Blagojevich was a contestant on Trump’s show “The Apprentice” in 2010. Trump fired Blagojevich for shoddy work on a Florida theme park project, telling him, “Your Harry Potter facts were not accurate. Who did the research?”
They’re all brothers, but the strongest bond is with the city:
Kerik and Milken were prominent New Yorkers during Trump’s professional rise as a real estate magnate there…
Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, was listed as a supporter for both Milken and Kerik, who also received backing from disgraced Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher, who was granted clemency by Trump last year. Kerik rode his prominence as Giuliani’s police chief during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to a nomination to be homeland security secretary in the Bush administration. But he soon ran into legal trouble, and his nomination was pulled.
Giuliani lost that one. His personal driver he had promoted to police commissioner had hit a wall. He would never run the entire Department of Homeland Security. He was going to jail, and George Bush let that happen, but Trump just made that up to Rudy. Trump made any record of Rudy’s guy doing bad things simply disappear. The old New York crowd takes care of each other.
And they ignore the losers in fly-over country:
The entire GOP delegation from Illinois lobbied against the Blagojevich commutation, officials said.
“We are disappointed by the president’s commutation of rod Blagojevich’s federal sentence. We believe he received an appropriate and fair sentence,” Reps. Darin LaHood, John Shimkus, Adam Kinzinger, Rodney Davis and Mike Bost said in a statement. “History will not judge Rod Blagojevich well.”
Trump made phone calls to the Illinois Republicans including LaHood last week to argue that the Blagojevich sentence was unjust, two administration officials said. But the lawmakers were not convinced.
But those are the “little people” who really don’t matter that much. That’s not who Trump listens to:
Trump acknowledged that in deciding whom to pardon, “a lot of times I really rely on the people that know them.”
The head of the Justice Department’s pardon office during the first two years of the Trump administration told the Washington Post that he quit last year because the White House had sidelined his office in favor of taking its cues from celebrities, political allies and Fox News…
“It’s a clemency process for the well-connected, and that’s it,” said Rachel Barlow, a New York University Law School professor and clemency expert. “Trump is wielding the power the way you would expect the leader of a banana republic who wants to reward his friends and cronies.”
But those are the only people he knows:
Blagojevich’s turn as a contestant on Trump’s NBC reality show came after he was indicted but before his convictions. Trump praised Blagojevich at the time for having “a lot of guts” to appear on the program.
And that’s good enough for Trump and a worry to everyone else:
During his Senate impeachment trial, Democrats repeatedly asserted that President Trump is “not above the law.” But since his acquittal two weeks ago, analysts say, the president has taken a series of steps aimed at showing that, essentially, he is the law.
On Tuesday, Trump granted clemency to a clutch of political allies, circumventing the usual Justice Department process. The pardons and commutations followed Trump’s moves to punish witnesses in his impeachment trial, publicly intervene in a pending legal case to urge leniency for a friend, attack a federal judge, accuse a juror of bias and threaten to sue his own government for investigating him.
Trump defended his actions, saying he has the right to shape the country’s legal systems as he sees fit.
“I’m allowed to be totally involved,” he told reporters as he left Washington on Tuesday for a trip to California, Nevada and Arizona. “I’m actually, I guess, the chief law enforcement officer of the country. But I’ve chosen not to be involved.”
That’s a curious claim. He can override Congress and the courts and declare that this one thing is a crime and that other thing isn’t? And no one can question him? And he’s had this power all along, but being a nice guy he hasn’t used that power yet? This is trouble:
The president’s post-impeachment behavior has alarmed Attorney General William P. Barr, who has told people close to the president that he is willing to quit unless Trump stops publicly commenting on ongoing criminal matters, according to two administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. It also has appalled several legal experts and former officials, who have said his direct intervention in legal matters risks further politicizing law enforcement at a time of fraying confidence in the Justice Department.
More than 2,000 former Justice Department employees signed a public letter this week objecting to Trump’s public intervention in the case of his longtime friend Roger Stone, and urging Attorney General William P. Barr to resign. The head of the Federal Judges Association has called an emergency meeting to address growing concerns about political interference in the Stone case.
Barr denies those rumors about wanting to quit, but that hardly matters:
Trump’s comments about the Stone case have caused the most concern. Trump has singled out the judge in the case, Amy Berman Jackson of the U.S. District Court in Washington, for personal attacks, accusing her of bias and spreading a falsehood about her record. He has amplified Stone’s request for a new trial, accusing a member of the jury of being politically biased against him.
Though Barr has warned that the president’s unbridled commentary about ongoing criminal cases was making it “impossible for me to do my job,” Trump continued to express his views about legal matters Tuesday.
Trump told reporters that he partially agreed with Barr, acknowledging that his tweets do make the attorney general’s job more difficult. But he said he would continue tweeting nonetheless.
“Social media, for me, has been very important because it gives me a voice,” Trump said.
What? No one would listen to him, the president, so he has to tweet to keep from disappearing from public life? Who knew? Amy Berman Jackson, by the way, does not hate Trump. She’s thorough and honest. And she’s tired of this nonsense.
Trump, of course, never gets tired:
Since his impeachment acquittal, Trump has tried to portray the prosecutions of his allies as the illegitimate product of an illegitimate investigation by former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into Russian interference in the 2016 race.
Prosecutions stemming from the Mueller investigation are “badly tainted,” Trump tweeted Tuesday, and “should be thrown out.”
“If I wasn’t President, I’d be suing everyone all over the place,” Trump wrote. “BUT MAYBE I STILL WILL. WITCH HUNT!”
After learning that federal judges would be holding an emergency discussion about his intervention in legal cases, Trump tweeted that they should instead discuss the alleged shortcomings of the Mueller probe.
Why? That’s over, but others can tweet. Steve Benen, one of the producers of the Rachel Maddow Show, sends one out, and gets a response from Julia Ioffe, a reporter for GQ Magazine, that goes like this:
Benen: For what it’s worth, my best guess: Trump is laying the groundwork for even more shocking pardons (Stone, Manafort, Flynn), and hoping to anesthetize the public into thinking pardon abuses are normal now.
Ioffe: What is the point of all these pardons? Is it to own the libs or to show that rule of law is not something the United States is really interested in pursuing anymore? Or that the President likes bad boys? Maybe I’m naive, but I don’t really get it.
Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog tries to help them both out:
When has Trump ever bothered to “lay the groundwork” for more outrageous conduct in the future? Trump just does things, and dares us to object, or to stop him. I think Ioffe is right about owning the libs – everything Republicans do is, at least in part, intended to own the libs.
And he cites this from the Daily Beast:
President Donald Trump on Tuesday granted clemency to 11 people, including several convicted felons who are either Fox News regulars or have been championed by the president’s favorite cable-news network…
Unsurprisingly, a key influence that led to Trump’s decision, particularly as it related to Blagojevich, was Fox News. The same could partly be said of the decision on Kerik, a frequent Fox News guest whose pardon was backed by several of the network’s stars; Milken, whose pardon was supported by Fox Business Network host and Trump loyalist Maria Bartiromo…
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Trump made the Fox News connection abundantly clear, telling reporters that he decided to commute the rest of Blagojevich’s sentence because he’d seen the ex-governor’s wife Patti Blagojevich pleading her husband’s case on Fox.
“I watched his wife on television,” Trump declared.
And that sets off Steve M:
Seriously, what is preventing him from pardoning all the people cited by Steve Benen, and doing it right now? Would there be angry editorials? Open letters of protest signed by retired Justice Department officials? Expressions of deep concern from Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski?
His poll numbers wouldn’t go down – he’s never been popular, but nothing makes his approval rating drop significantly, and it never declines for very long. He’d still be competitive in head-to-head polling with the top Democrats running against him, though he’d probably a few points behind – but he probably doesn’t need to win the popular vote to win the election. So why the hesitancy?
For that matter, why doesn’t he do even more shocking things? Why hasn’t he ordered critics poisoned? There’s nothing he could do that would diminish his standing in the eyes of his worshipful fans, and nothing that would lead to even a mild rebuke that could survive both houses of Congress. What’s restraining him?
Ah, that would be this:
Partly it’s his narrow focus – he doesn’t know history, so he lacks the imagination to see himself as a true dictator with unlimited power. The world of his imaginings is circumscribed by what he sees on his favorite news channel, where he’s treated like the rest of the audience, helpless exurb-dwellers made to fear and hate enemies who are said to have cheated their way to power (Democrats, Hollywood stars, George Soros).
Beyond that, I think he prefers to think of the world as a place with rules that he – to his own great delight – gets away with breaking. It’s as if he can’t imagine creating a new world with no rules other than his own decrees; it’s as if he’d rather cheat the system than destroy it.
So, all that’s left is this:
Somewhere there are young right-wing megalomaniacs who know precisely what they’d do with the power Trump has now. One of them will probably have his job in the near future. We have it bad now, but it could be even worse.
That not exactly cheery. So, what do the Democrats have to counter any of this?