Also on the list were several figures in the Russia investigation.George Papadopoulos and Alex van der Zwaan received brief prison sentences for lying to investigators, in what the White House dismissed as “process-related crimes,” arguing that the pardons would help “correct the wrong” of the Russia probe. In fact, the Russia investigation was grounded in the reality that the Kremlin tried to aid Mr. Trump, an effort the president’s campaign welcomed, even as he surrounded himself with people with fishy connections to Russia. Lying to the investigators examining this potentially grave national security issue was a substantial crime.
The pardon of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was worse still; a longtime shady dealer, he committed a series of financial frauds to fund an over-the-top opulent lifestyle. Yet he was another crony for whom Mr. Trump “felt badly” when special counsel Robert S. Mueller III finally held him to account.
It’s bad enough to have a president acting like a mafia don, rewarding criminality as long as it is accompanied by personal fealty. But a third set of pardons poses a unique threat to national security, the safety of U.S. troops operating abroad — and morality. In pardoning four Blackwater guards convicted of murder or manslaughter for an unprovoked 2007 massacre of 14 Iraqi civilians, Mr. Trump renewed the stain of that fateful day. The fact that he did not pardon a fifth Blackwater guard who cooperated with prosecutors underlined his contempt for the rule of law. The message to those who fight in America’s name will be that they can shoot fleeing civilians, including children, and get away with it. As with Mr. Trump’s earlier interference in military justice, this does a grave disservice to the vast majority of Americans who act with honor in the most difficult circumstances. The message to foreign countries is not to expect that the United States will hold its own accountable even for astonishing acts of inhumanity. That is counterproductive as well as wrong: Why would foreign governments allow Americans accused of crimes abroad in the future to be repatriated to the United States for trial?
Other presidents have misused the pardon power to help cronies. Mr. Trump this week went much further in debasing his office and the nation’s moral standing.