THE NAUSEATING pardons and commutations President Trump issued this week are all troubling in their own way. But there’s no question which are the most damaging.

There were, firstly, the corrupt Republican politicians whose only claim on a pardon is their political support of the president. It may or may not be coincidence that some of Mr. Trump’s strongest early backers also committed some of the most flagrant acts of illegal self-enrichment. Former California congressman Duncan D. Hunter, for example, spent hundreds of thousands in campaign dollars bankrolling a lavish lifestyle that included a Lake Tahoe getaway with one of his mistresses, tuition for his children and plane rides for his pet rabbit. When he got caught, he blamed “fake news,” the “deep state,” and even his wife and son for his predicament. He will end up serving no prison time. Former New York congressman Chris Collins, meanwhile, will have spent just a couple of months behind bars for conspiring to commit securities fraud, a crime relating to the sketchy relationship with a biotechnology company he nurtured while overseeing federal health-care policy.

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.

At the end of most presidencies, one of the last things a president does is issue pardons. Will President Trump attempt to pardon himself and his family? (The Washington Post)

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.

Read more: