“You know, oftentimes — pretty much all the time — I really rely on the recommendations of people that know them,” Mr. Trump explained. The White House stressed that high-profile recipients of the president’s favor, such as former junk bond king Michael Milken, were backed by an array of Trump associates.
The president noted that he pardoned former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich (D), who was convicted of attempting to sell a seat in the U.S. Senate, in part because he watched Mr. Blagojevich’s wife appeal to him on television. He also admitted that he developed sympathy for Mr. Blagojevich because he saw in the former governor’s prosecution similarities to the investigations of Mr. Trump’s own behavior. “It was a prosecution by the same people — Comey, Fitzpatrick [sic] — the same group,” he said, referring to James B. Comey and Patrick Fitzgerald. It should not be forgotten that investigators had audio recordings of Mr. Blagojevich discussing his corrupt plot to profit personally from his official appointment powers.
Then there was the case of Paul Pogue, who was convicted of failing to pay about half a million dollars in taxes and sentenced to three years probation. Mr. Trump pardoned him after he and his family gave hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts to the Trump Victory Committee.
This arbitrary deployment of presidential pardon power sent several messages, all of them insidious. One is that favor flows from the leader’s good graces. Those seeking help in Washington had better pay court to Mr. Trump in order to gain his special favor.
Another is that Blagojevich-like corruption is not serious and that those who investigate and prosecute such wrongdoing do so not because it is unusual but because they are biased. This is false. Not every politician tries to sell a Senate seat — just like not every president holds military aid ransom until an ally investigates one of his political opponents.
Lastly, Mr. Trump is asserting control over criminal matters, which his predecessors avoided for fear of corrupting the justice system. “I’m allowed to be totally involved” in the federal justice process, he insisted Tuesday.
The pardon power is important. There will always be mistakes and excesses in the criminal-justice system. But the power’s exercise ought to reflect equitable deliberation. If, say, too many people are in federal prison for committing low-level drug crimes, presidents should establish procedures to review everyone with a claim who is serving time for these offenses. If Mr. Trump thinks that white-collar crime and political corruption are too harshly punished, he should similarly organize a review of every case. President Barack Obama created an orderly process to expand his use of the pardon power. Mr. Trump has gone in the opposite direction.
“Somebody has to stick up for the people,” Mr. Trump said Tuesday. What he really meant is that someone has to stick up for his people.