On the Way Out: 143 Pardons

143 at the 11th hour.

It is not unusual for a president to issue a large number of pardons in his final days in office. Usually, we aren’t waiting until later of that president’s last night in office to figure out if he will issue a self-pardon (he did not), preemptive pardons of his family (he did not), or some of his cronies (he did).

A lot could be said about where Trump’s pardons fit in the history of pardons and of the pardon power itself (short version: it needs reform), but time permits me to point you to this story via WaPo: Trump grants clemency to 143 people in late-night pardon blast.

The most high profile, and likely to more unjust, was for Steve Bannon:

Some inside the White House believed Monday that Bannon would not get a pardon, but Trump continued to weigh the matter — balancing Bannon’s previous help to him, and potential to help him in the future, versus what he viewed as disloyal behavior at times.

Bannon, 67, and three others were accused of making fraudulent representations as they solicited more than $25 million in donations for a fundraising campaign called “We Build the Wall,” much of it from Trump’s supporters.

The only reason that Bannon is in the conversation is because he worked for Trump, plain and simple. He is going to skate on a clear scam to bilk Trump’s own supporters. This is just yet another example of Trump clearly not caring one whit for the supporters he claims to love.

I suppose all of this is an appropriate coda on this presidency.

“Even Nixon didn’t pardon his cronies on the way out,” Noah Bookbinder, executive director of the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said in a statement. “Amazingly, in his final 24 hours in office, Donald Trump found one more way to fail to live up to the ethical standard of Richard Nixon.”


Advocates for criminal justice reform lamented that many deserving people were overlooked in the clemency process because the president appeared focused on handing out political favors.

“They all had something Trump wanted or benefited him in some kind of way,” Nichole Forde, 40, who hand-wrote her clemency petition in 2016 and is serving a 27-year sentence for nonviolent drug crimes, wrote in an email from federal prison in Pekin, Ill. “I am not part of the Trump elite.”

Also, I look forward to having presidencies about which the following paragraph could not be written:

And the president decided against a pardon for the star of the Netflix reality show “Tiger King,” known as “Joe Exotic,” despite high optimism from the zookeeper’s camp. On Tuesday, his supporters stationed a stretch limo near the prison where he is incarcerated to squire him home had his pardon been granted.

Some others from the list of 143:

On Tuesday, Trump also granted a pardon to GOP megadonor Elliott Broidy, 64, who pleaded guilty in October to acting as an unregistered foreign agent and lobbying the Trump administration on behalf of Malaysian and Chinese interests. A Los Angeles-based investor, Broidy helped raise millions for Trump’s campaign before serving as the Republican National Committee’s national deputy finance chairman.


Among those who received a full pardon was Dwayne Carter Jr., better known as the rapper Lil Wayne, who pleaded guilty in December to carrying a loaded gold-plated .45 caliber Glock handgun from California to Florida on his private jet. He was barred from owning the gun due to a past felony conviction. He had not yet been sentenced.

Trump also granted clemency to Casey Urlacher, brother of former NFL star Brian Urlacher, who pleaded not guilty in March to charges that he helped run an illegal offshore gambling ring.

Trump also commuted the sentence of Salomon Melgen, a West Palm Beach, Fla., eye doctor who was sentenced in 2018 to 17 years in prison, accused of stealing $73 million from Medicare by persuading elderly patients to undergo unnecessary procedures.


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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Birds of a feather.

  2. KM says:

    Here’s the real question: how many of them were rioters from the 6th or just infamous MAGAts in general? Q Shaman, the plane lady, the one thinking she’s smart trying to sell government property to the Russians, etc. They placed their hope in the Great Orange Savior to save them from the consequences of their actions…. well, did he? I got money riding on No.

  3. senyordave says:

    A piece of shit to the very end. I wonder how much Lil Wayne (estimated net worth $150 million) paid Trump for his pardon.

  4. de stijl says:

    Drunky. Barely holding it together semi-functional alcoholic.

  5. Sleeping Dog says:

    As was mentioned by someone in yesterday’s forum, Trump’s pardons are basically professional courtesy. Mostly to wealthy grfiters such as himself and vanishingly few to the cult, who’ve been taken again.

  6. Scott says:

    White collar crime is not really crime in Trump world.

  7. JohnMcC says:

    @KM: You win.

  8. mattbernius says:

    As usual, there were a scant smattering of worthy pardons in this. So I’m thankful for those.

    Honestly, I think @PopeHat had the best take on pardons this morning:

    It is genuinely repulsive that the class of Americans most likely to be pardoned is professional politicians. I’d support an amendment making anyone who held office when they were charged ineligible.— PardonMeHat (@Popehat) January 20, 2021

  9. Kathy says:

    I’m guessing he pardoned Bannon, because trump might need his brain one of these days.

  10. Kylopod says:

    This is just yet another example of Trump clearly not caring one whit for the supporters he claims to love.

    Perhaps nothing illustrates this better than the cop who was killed in the Capitol attack. The cop was a Trump supporter. IOW, one of his supporters was literally murdered as a result of his behavior.

    The cop went unmentioned in yesterday’s farewell address.

  11. Kathy says:

    On a serious note, the pardon is like the lottery for most people: very valuable and very, very unlikely.

    What’s needed is judicial reform. For starters, end the war on drugs. You lost. Drugs won. It’s time to join the victorious opposition. Drugs are a health problem, not a criminal one, and we’d do better treating them that way*.

    It’s time, too, to end mandatory minimums, and return the power of sentencing to the discretion of judges and juries (as the case may be). And this includes three strike laws. It would be fine to state a third felony conviction should be punished more harshly, but mandating life in prison is too much in most cases.

    Executive pardons and clemency should be reserved for miscarriages of justice, wrongful convictions, and excessive punishments. And these should be rare rather than the norm.

    *The only crime I could get behind as regards drugs would be selling or giving them to minors.

  12. dazedandconfused says:

    Letting Bannon serve time for scamming the MAGAs after doing it himself to the tune of a quarter mill with his election-defense game? This was something even Trump couldn’t do. There is a sense of honor in him, of a sort. The cardinal sin of his code is probably the unforgivable mistake of Madoff: Stealing from rich people.

    Also, Bannon was in insider and a fellow shameless liar. It would’ve been unwise to deny him a pardon that at least gets the Feds off his back, even though a state can, and one probably will, still charge him with fraud.

  13. de stijl says:

    Drunkies spill secrets.

  14. Scott F. says:

    If Trump supporters had even a smidgen of self-respect, the pardon of Bannon would pissed them off no end. Not only were the people he bilked almost exclusively Trump supporters, but Bannon took their money while undermining the building of The Wall that the Trumpkins so clearly believe to be all that stands between the US they purport to love and the unwashed hordes to the south.

    Trump clearly does not care one whit for his supporters nor does he care about the principles and policies they claim to believe American so desperately needs.

  15. Gustopher says:

    Why didn’t Trump pardon Q?

    Q has been releasing all sorts of classified information — classified at the Q level even! — and while it’s obviously in America’s interests that this information is public (so we can protect our children from the global network of satanist pedophiles), he is still breaking the law while releasing the info.

    Perhaps there is a secret pardon.

    I’m also surprised there wasn’t a posthumous pardon for Epstein.

  16. JohnMcC says:

    I’ve been compulsively reading the numerous accounts of Mr Trump’s final days and forget where I read this little snippet, probably Politico, but he is reported somewhere to have been careful to keep his pardons numbering less than Bill Clinton’s 176.

  17. PJ says:

    There was a last minute pardon, Trump pardoned Jeanine Pirro’s husband.

  18. Electroman says:

    I’m particularly rankled by the pardon for Randall “Duke” Cunningham. I care more about the self-serving lies he told over and over (about “Colonel Tomb”) than the stuff he was convicted for, though.

  19. Teve says:

    Barely holding it together semi-functional alcoholic.

    Some of us do just fine within those limitations.

    ETA that thing was, uh, broke before we got here. (Cough) (Sniff)

  20. Pylon says:

    The vast majority of pardons (outside of cronies) Trump simply saying “game recognizes game”.

  21. Kathy says:

    Since trump didn’t issue his cherished self pardon*, I expect indictments no later than August this year.

    * Who knows if he didn’t go for a Dean Wormer “double-secret pardon” or something.

  22. Pylon says:

    @Kathy: A secret pardon is possible. BUT there’d have to be witnesses and some sort of chain of custody certainty to establish that it was done while in office. Normally you’d expect there’d be a record on file, and Biden would known of it soon.

  23. Kathy says:


    In that case I expect Pelosi to call Trump in to testify on the select committee probing executive branch corruption.


  24. Tim says:

    I can really imagine a scenario in which some on his staff (Javanka, perhaps) intentionally pull a couple of very awful and/or stupid pardons (Joe Exotic? Edward Snowden? Others?) out of the large pile and hope he doesn’t notice as he signs the 143 documents. I have to wonder how many things he signed (or didn’t) because someone close to him was doing a little bit of bureaucratic shuffling to save him from his worst instincts.

  25. Slugger says:

    I’m good with most pardons. I think that American sentences are usually too long and predicated on some politicians’ “tough on crime” b.s. rather than what is the best policy to safeguard society without cruelty toward the miscreants. Of course, having someone with Trump’s moral stature pick 170 or so out of the more than two million packing our prisons leads to a bizarre lottery. This makes the pardon process into something that does not advance humane standards of justice, and instead gives the President imperial powers over fate.
    BTW, what’s the deal with pardoning Aviem Sella, a spy? I would put ten thousand guys in prison for dealing smack in line ahead of a spy. The guys dealing were trying to make some money in a world with few opportunities; the spy had lots of options.

  26. Michael Reynolds says:

    I always knew he was stupid, but I thought his instincts were more formidable. By nearly getting Pence killed he missed his chance at a pardon that would stick. Every bit the dick we all knew him to be – his kids and his pet lizard are hanging out there, exposed.

    If I were writing this I’d have the Senate call witnesses, and the big surprise would be Pence testifying against Trump. That’s if McConnell wants to make the big move instead of just small ball. Definitely worth watching.