In late 2015, Conrad Black wrote a piece for a conservative magazine, praising then-candidate Donald Trump. The future president proudly promoted the article via Twitter, adding at the time, “I won’t forget!”
Yesterday, Trump followed through.
President Donald Trump on Wednesday pardoned former newspaper mogul Conrad Black, who was convicted in 2007 on charges that he swindled shareholders in his media empire out of $6 million, the White House announced.
Black was sentenced to six-and-a-half years in prison in 2007, and a federal judge at sentencing said the millionaire member of the British House of Lords violated his duty to Hollinger International shareholders, the Associated Press reported at the time. Black was found guilty of three counts of mail fraud and one count of obstruction of justice for spiriting documents out of his Toronto office in defiance of a court order.
The official White House statement on Trump’s executive grant of clemency added that Black, an enthusiastic supporter of the president, is “the author of several notable biographies and works of history.” What it neglected to mention is that one of Black’s biographies was published last year. It was titled “Donald J. Trump: A President Like No Other.”
Around the same time, the White House also announced executive clemency for Patrick Nolan, a former Republican state lawmaker in California, who’s a friend of Jared Kushner, and a critic of the Mueller investigation.
To be sure, Trump is not the first president to issue provocative pardons. Bill Clinton’s Marc Rich pardon, for example, was the basis for a significant controversy in 2001. Nineteen years earlier, George H.W. Bush’s Christmas Eve pardons for several officials at the center of the Iran-Contra scandal were among the most scandalous pardons in American history.
But the volume and brazenness of Trump’s pardons – for Dinesh D’Souza, Joe Arpaio, Scooter Libby, et al – tell us a great deal about how the Republican approaches his responsibilities and the rule of law.
A Washington Post analysis added this morning, of the nine living people who’ve received pardons from this president, “eight are either conservatives or further Trump’s political narrative in some way.”
[Presidents who make controversial pardons] often do it sparingly, late in their terms (the Rich pardon came on Clinton’s last day in office), and they mix it in with many other pardons that don’t so clearly and obviously benefit themselves. The scale and audacity with Trump is on another level completely. Trump seems to have very little regard for the perception this creates. Perhaps that’s because he likes the signal it sends to his allies that they too could one day benefit from his broad executive power – even if in ways far shy of a something as big as a pardon. Trump’s dangling of pardons for some of his top aides convicted of crimes drives that home.
The Black pardon, in particular, really tests the limits of what is appropriate. But as with many other norms, Trump is happy to bulldoze it.
As we discussed during the last round of controversial Trump pardons, throughout much of the Obama presidency, much of the right insisted that the Democratic president was a lawless authoritarian, with no use for the rule of law, who needed to be replaced with a Republican who recognized the importance of law and order. That rhetoric appears awfully ironic now.