Abandoning anti-corruption posture, Trump goes on pardoning spree

With this pardon spree, the whole idea of Trump as some kind of corruption-fighter has become a punch-line to a sad joke.
Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with law enforcement officials on the MS-13 street gang and border security, in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018, in Washington.Evan Vucci / AP
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By Steve Benen

For months, as the Ukraine scandal derailed his presidency, Donald Trump tried to defend his illegal extortion scheme with a rather ridiculous explanation. His actions, the president insisted, were motivated by his deep and abiding concerns about corruption. More than a few Republicans played along, pretending that Trump really is an aggressive anti-corruption crusader -- all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

With this White House statement, released a short while ago, the whole idea of Trump as some kind of corruption-fighter has become a punch-line to a sad joke.

Today, President Donald J. Trump signed Executive Grants of Clemency granting Full Pardons to the following individuals: Edward DeBartolo, Jr., Michael Milken, Ariel Friedler, Bernard Kerik, Paul Pogue, David Safavian, and Angela Stanton. In addition, President Trump signed Executive Grants of Clemency granting commutations to Rod Blagojevich, Tynice Nichole Hall, Crystal Munoz, and Judith Negron.

Among the names that stand out most is Rod Blagojevich, the notorious Democratic governor of Illinois, perhaps best known for trying to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat. (Blagojevich was also, incidentally, a contestant on Trump's reality television show.)

In 2018, the Chicago Tribune reported, "Blagojevich and his team have orchestrated a calculated publicity campaign labeling his prosecution on sweeping corruption charges unjust and politically motivated. The show has been targeted to an audience of one: President Donald Trump."

It worked. Republicans spent months privately warning the president that Blagojevich's crime "epitomizes the corruption that Mr. Trump had said he wanted to tackle as president," but Trump ignored them, swayed by what he saw on Fox News.

But there's no need to stop with the man known as "Blago." Several of those on today's list -- Bernie Kerik, David Safavian, Michael Milken, Judith Negron, et al. -- were convicted of charges related to corruption and fraud.

And Trump, after years of posturing about being "tough on crime," was only too pleased to intervene in their cases and help wipe the slate clean.

I'm occasionally reminded of an op-ed MSNBC's Chris Hayes wrote for the New York Times in 2018, explaining the president's perspective.

"If all that matters when it comes to 'law and order' is who is a friend and who is an enemy, and if friends are white and enemies are black or Latino or in the wrong party, then the rhetoric around crime and punishment stops being about justice and is merely about power and corruption. And this is what 'law and order' means: the preservation of a certain social order, not the rule of law."

In Trump's preferred vision of social order, corruption doesn't seem to be especially important.