The pardons support the notion that Mr. Trump has used his pardon power more aggressively than most presidents for personal and political purposes. The founders gave the president the power to serve as the ultimate emergency brake on the criminal justice system to right the wrongs of those deserving of grace in mercy.
A tabulation by the Harvard Law School professor Jack Goldsmith found that of the 45 pardons or commutations that Mr. Trump had granted up until Tuesday, 88 percent aided someone with a personal tie to the president or furthered his political aims — a pattern that Mr. Goldsmith said Mr. Trump appeared to maintain with Tuesday’s pardons.
“They continue Trump’s unprecedented pattern of issuing self-serving pardons and commutations that advance his personal interests, reward friends, seek retribution against enemies, or gratify political constituencies,” Mr. Goldsmith said. “Like his past pardons, most if not all of them appear to be based on insider recommendations rather than normal Justice Department vetting process.”
The pardons of the Blackwater contractors have direct links to two of Mr. Trump’s close allies.
The former head of Blackwater, Erik Prince, is a longtime Trump supporter whose conduct was investigated by the special counsel’s office. During the 2017 transition, Mr. Prince planned to meet with a Russia-sanctioned banker in the Seychelles to come up with ways the Russian government and the incoming Trump administration could cooperate. For reasons that remain unclear, the meeting never occurred.
And Mr. Prince’s sister is Mr. Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos.
By nullifying the legal consequences of convictions in the Russia inquiry, Mr. Trump escalated a long campaign, aided by his departing attorney general, William P. Barr, to effectively undo the investigation by Mr. Mueller, discredit the resulting prosecutions and punish those who instigated it in the first place.
President Trump has discussed potential pardons that could test the boundaries of his constitutional power to nullify criminal liability. Here’s some clarity on his ability to pardon.
- May a president issue prospective pardons before any charges or conviction? Yes. In Ex parte Garland, an 1866 case involving a former Confederate senator who had been pardoned by President Andrew Johnson, the Supreme Court said the pardon power “extends to every offense known to the law, and may be exercised at any time after its commission, either before legal proceedings are taken or during their pendency, or after conviction and judgment.” It is unusual for a president to issue a prospective pardon before any charges are filed, but there are examples, perhaps most famously President Gerald R. Ford’s pardon in 1974 of Richard M. Nixon to prevent him from being prosecuted after the Watergate scandal.
- May a president pardon his relatives and close allies? Yes. The Constitution does not bar pardons that raise the appearance of self-interest or a conflict of interest, even if they may provoke a political backlash and public shaming. In 2000, shortly before leaving office, President Bill Clinton issued a slew of controversial pardons, including to his half brother, Roger Clinton, over a 1985 cocaine conviction for which he had served about a year in prison, and to Susan H. McDougal, a onetime Clinton business partner who had been jailed as part of the Whitewater investigation.
- May a president issue a general pardon? This is unclear. Usually, pardons are written in a way that specifically describes which crimes or sets of activities they apply to. There is little precedent laying out the degree to which a pardon can be used to instead foreclose criminal liability for anything and everything.
- May a president pardon himself? This is unclear. There is no definitive answer because no president has ever tried to pardon himself and then faced prosecution anyway. As a result, there has never been a case which gave the Supreme Court a chance to resolve the question. In the absence of any controlling precedent, legal thinkers are divided about the matter.
- Find more answers here.
The White House continued to chip away at the legacy of the Mueller investigation in the statement released Tuesday night. It made a point of saying that the Mueller investigation “found no evidence of collusion in connection with Russia’s attempts to interfere in the election,” and it dismissively referred to Mr. Papadopoulos’s crime as “process related.”
Mr. Papadopoulos, 33, served 12 days in jail for lying to the F.B.I. about his contacts with Russian intermediaries during the 2016 presidential race. He later published a book portraying himself as a victim of a “deep state” plot to “bring down President Trump.” In an interview last month, he welcomed the possibility of clemency.