After President Trump pardoned 15 people and commuted the sentences of five on Tuesday, including former government contractors who were convicted in a 2007 massacre in Baghdad, he faced swift criticism from politicians, legal analysts, members of the media, and veterans.
Though it’s common for outgoing presidents to issue pardons near the end of their term, Trump has steadfastly refused to concede the election even as the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden is less than 6 weeks away.
In comparison to past presidential transitions, the shift from Trump to Biden has been anything but smooth. In its last remaining weeks in power, the Trump administration has taken steps that will make Biden’s beginning days as president difficult to navigate — from withdrawing troops in Afghanistan to Trump suggesting he would not sign a pandemic relief bill that lawmakers spent months negotiating.
This latest act — pardoning congressional Republicans who were early supporters of Trump, along with a former campaign advisor found guilty of lying to investigators in the Russia probe, among others — exemplifies the president’s tendency to reward those who have been loyal to him and punish those who have not, critics like Representative Adam Schiff said.
“Lie to cover up for the president? You get a pardon. Corrupt politician who endorsed Trump? You get a pardon. Murder innocent civilians? You get a pardon,” the California Democrat and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee wrote on Twitter.
He added: “Elect a corrupt man as president? You get a corrupt result.”
Trump is likely to issue more pardons before he exits the White House. Previous media reports have stated that Trump has discussed with advisers the possibility of pardoning members of his own family and personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.
Some of the standout pardons people took issue with on Tuesday included those of former Representative Duncan Hunter, a Californian Republican who was sentenced to 11 months in prison for the misuse of campaign funds in March, and George Papadopoulos and Alexander van der Zwaan, who were both convicted in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
John W. Dean, who served as White House counsel for the Nixon administration, said the president’s pardons are indicative of three things: that “insiders arranged them,” that they are all political in nature, and that the “underlying conduct is mischaracterized [in most] every instance, particularly Mueller’s prosecutions.”
“Undoubtedly, more will follow,” Dean wrote on Twitter.
Dean called Hunter’s pardon “an injustice.”
“He was headed to 11 months in prison. His wife got 8 months [of home] confinement. They used his campaign funds to live the high life,” Dean wrote. “When discovered she confessed and cooperated. He denied. Lied. Blamed her. Now he gets a pass, she a smack!”
Nikole Hannah-Jones, a reporter covering racial justice for the New York Times and creator of the award-winning “1619 Project,” put her assessment of the pardons bluntly.
“Trump is spending his last few weeks in office executing poor people and pardoning rich people,” she wrote on Twitter.
“The corrupt, the criminal, murderers of children — that’s who Donald lets off the hook,” she wrote on Twitter. “We can never forget and never forgive the unspeakable cruelty.”
But perhaps the pardons many found most egregious were those of Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty, Nicholas Slatten, and Paul Slough — former contractors at Blackwater Worldwide. The four men were convicted in 2014 for their role in a Baghdad massacre in 2007 that left more than a dozen Iraqi civilians dead.
“They are disgraces to our country, and they belong in jail,” the Massachusetts Democrat wrote on Twitter.
Moulton, who is also a member of the House Armed Services Committee, added that when the contractors “slaughtered innocent people,” they by default put “a target on the back of every American on the ground at the time.”
“The same thing will happen because of this pardon, because it signals that the conventions that protect our service members and innocent civilians do not matter,” Moulton warned.
He concluded: “Thank God this man is on the way out. Decent people everywhere should speak up against this and show the world America’s values are not whatever it is the president is displaying.”
Glenn Kirschner, a former federal prosecutor who served in the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, said he considered the trials of Slough, Heard, Liberty, and Slatten — and “fighting for justice” for the 31 victims of the Baghdad attack — one of the “proudest accomplishments” of the office.
“Today, Trump killed justice,” Kirschner wrote on Twitter.
See reactions to the pardons below:
Massachusetts Representative Seth Moulton, a Democrat:
The Blackwater contractors the president issued a pardon to tonight are convicted war criminals who brutally murdered civilians in Iraq. They are disgraces to our country, and they belong in jail.— Seth Moulton (@sethmoulton) December 23, 2020
Thank God this man is on the way out. Decent people everywhere should speak up against this and show the world America’s values are not whatever it is the president is displaying.— Seth Moulton (@sethmoulton) December 23, 2020
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, a Democrat:
Glenn Kirschner, a former federal prosecutor:
Trump pardoned the 4 Blackwater defendants who slaughtered 14 innocent, unarmed Iraqis (injured 17 others). I considered these trials one of the proudest accomplishments of the DC US Attorney’s Office, fighting for justice for those Iraqi victims. Today, Trump killed justice.— Glenn Kirschner (@glennkirschner2) December 23, 2020
Olivia Troye, a former Department of Homeland Security official and former advisor to Vice President Mike Pence:
I’ll never forget how upsetting it was-especially for those of us who served in Iraq-when news broke about this brazen act of hostility on innocent Iraqi civilians. #Trump pardoning the #Blackwater guys sends an awful message to the world about the U.S. & undermines our military.— Olivia of Troye (@OliviaTroye) December 23, 2020
Former Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat:
Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar, a Democrat:
Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, who retired in 2013 as the Commander of the United States Army in Europe:
Many will be wringing their hands about Papadopoulos, but in my view the pardon of the Blackwater employees is the most egregious and disgusting of @realDonaldTrump actions. This was a graven war crime that resulted in the death of 17 Iraqi civilians. Shame on you Mr President. https://t.co/trGAbHu3WB— Mark Hertling (@MarkHertling) December 23, 2020
Mary L. Trump, the niece of President Trump:
These pardons are grotesque. The corrupt, the criminal, murderers of children--that's who Donald lets off the hook. We can never forget and never forgive the unspeakable cruelty.— Mary L Trump (@MaryLTrump) December 23, 2020
Asha Rangappa, a senior lecturer at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs and a former Associate Dean at Yale Law School:
The pardon power is intended to be humane: It tempers the bluntness of the law with compassion for individual facts and circumstances that the law may not account for.— Asha Rangappa (@AshaRangappa_) December 23, 2020
It doesn’t work if you elect a President lacking in humanity and compassion. And especially if he’s a criminal.
The American Civil Liberties Union, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, legal, and advocacy organization:
California Representative Adam Schiff, a Democrat:
Trump can pardon those convicted of lying for him, but it doesn’t change the facts:— Adam Schiff (@AdamSchiff) December 23, 2020
Trump and his campaign asked for help from the Russians, welcomed that help, made full use of it, and then lied to cover it up.
But it does prove one more thing: Trump is corrupt to the end.
Lie to cover up for the president? You get a pardon.— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) December 23, 2020
Corrupt politician who endorsed Trump? You get a pardon.
Murder innocent civilians? You get a pardon.
Elect a corrupt man as president?
You get a corrupt result.
Lawrence O’Donnell, host of “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” on MSNBC:
Trump is trying to create pardon outrage fatigue by the time he pardons himself and his children.— Lawrence O'Donnell (@Lawrence) December 23, 2020
Nikole Hannah-Jones, a reporter for the New York Times:
Trump is spending his last few weeks in office executing poor people and pardoning rich people.— Ida Bae Wells (@nhannahjones) December 23, 2020
Kevin Liptak, a White House reporter for CNN:
7p hour recap: Trump pardons admitted liars, corrupt Republicans and Blackwater guards convicted of massacre on civilians; minutes later tells Congress to redo the stimulus/gov't funding package it took them 9 months to pass in video taped in front of Christmas garland.— Kevin Liptak (@Kevinliptakcnn) December 23, 2020
John W. Dean, former White House counsel for the Nixon administration:
Pam Bondi is responsible for three of these pardons. Was she paid to lobby for them?— John W. Dean (@JohnWDean) December 23, 2020
But it gets worse: Trump pardoned 4 war criminals. Men who murdered innocent unarmed people caught up in the Iraq War. Blackwater contract warriors found guilty beyond reasonable doubt in a federal court were given a pass. Hang on. It’s not over...— John W. Dean (@JohnWDean) December 23, 2020