Last Minute Pardons Raise Questions, Again

ORLANDO, Fla. — In his final hours in office, President Bill Clinton pardoned financial criminal Marc Rich.

At the time, the pardon caused an outcry and question over limiting presidential pardon power in the future.

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Now, two-decades later, those questions have arisen again following a series of last-minute pardons by President Donald Trump.

In the waning days of his administration, President Trump issued pardons for former associates Paul Manafort and Steve Bannon. Manafort- who in 2018 pled guilty to two charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States and witness tampering- was pardoned in December, while Bannon- who was charged with defrauding donors in a border wall scheme- was pardoned hours before Trump left office.

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“There are a couple of sensible pardon reform proposals, of course both require a constitutional amendment,” says legal expert Paul Rosenzweig, a Senior Fellow at the R-Street Institute. “One would be a prohibition on persons known to the president, the other would be a prohibition on issuing pardons after an election and before inauguration.”

Because the US Constitution gives broad power to the President to issue pardons, any changes to that power would require an amendment to the Constitution.

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But Rosenzweig cautions even an amendment would come with unforeseen consequences since the idea of the pardon power was that the executive branch could be a check on the other two branches.

“This power is intended as a check on the legislative branch for creating excessive criminalization and the judicial branch for getting individual cases wrong. You can’t create such a power as a check on those other two powers that is in turn reviewable by either the legislative or judicial branch...structurally just doesn’t work,” says Rosenzweig.

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