President Trump's decision to pardon former national security adviser Michael Flynn was widely expected—but still hugely controversial. The president announced the day before Thanksgiving that he was granting a full pardon to Flynn, who pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to the FBI about discussing anti-Russia sanctions with the country's ambassador to the US. Flynn tried to withdraw his guilty plea in January. In March, Trump said he was considering a full pardon and, in a move that led to the Justice Department being accused of "gross abuse," the department tried to drop the case in May. More:
- Trump "was right to grant pardon." Eli Lake at Bloomberg argues that pardoning Flynn was the right move, since documents released this year revealed that the FBI's case agent on the investigation, William Barnett, wanted to drop the case after determining that Flynn didn't collude with the Russians in the 2016 election, but FBI leadership and Robert Mueller's office pressed ahead. Lake says Flynn's guilty plea only came after he was threatened with prosecution under a rarely enforced law for unrelated lobbying work. "Every American deserves the same protections under the law—even those who work for Donald Trump," he writes.
- A "parting disgrace." The Washington Post editorial board calls the pardon a "total disgrace," noting that a federal judge resisted the Justice Department "obvious favoritism for one of the president’s friends" in attempting to dismiss the case. The president "steamrolled the facts and debate, deploying one of the least reviewable powers of his office—his pardon authority—to officially end the Flynn drama," they write. "He enabled an admitted felon to walk free solely because he was a loyal Trumpist."
- Impeachment leaders speak out. While Trump's allies celebrated the move, Democrats who led Trump's impeachment were among those condemning it, the New York Times reports. "Flynn lied to the F.B.I. about his communications with the Russians—efforts which undermined U.S. foreign policy after sanctions were imposed on Russia for interfering in our elections," said Rep. Adam Schiff. And Flynn pled guilty to those lies, twice. A pardon by Trump does not erase that truth, no matter how Trump and his allies try to suggest otherwise."
- Could Trump pardon himself? The president isn't facing any active criminal investigations, but there has still been plenty of speculation over whether he plans to grant himself a pre-emptive pardon. He has stressed that he has the power to do so, but legal experts say the issue is murky, the Guardian reports. A 1915 Supreme Court ruling found that a pardon has an "implicit imputation of guilt," which could complicate a potential Trump 2024 run.
- "Separation of powers restored." Pro-Trump legal scholar John Yoo argues that the Justice Department's decision to dismiss the case should have been final and that the pardon "restores the proper balance to the separation of powers." "Under the Constitution, courts are to decide cases or controversies, not to create them," he writes at the National Review. "The pardon restores the right of future presidents to direct prosecutions, including choosing the cases that represent the best outcomes for the use of limited federal resources."
- Flynn "lied to protect Trump." David Frum at the Atlantic argues that Flynn lied to protect Trump, not himself, and that's why he was pardoned. According to Frum, Flynn "surely did not know what specifically he was protected Trump against," but when the FBI asked him about his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, "he acted like a man aware of a terrible secret that must be concealed at all costs."
- Trump has granted fewer pardons than most. Pew Research notes that Trump has granted clemency just 44 times in his administration, with 28 pardons and 16 commutations, the lowest in at least 120 years. Barack Obama granted clemency 1,927 times in his eight years in office, the most of any president since Harry Truman, while George W. Bush granted 200 requests.
- This could be the start of a wave of pardons. Analysts—and lobbyists—believe the Flynn pardon could be the start of a "blitz" of pardons during Trump's final weeks in office, the BBC reports. Other Trump allies convicted as a result of the Mueller investigation, including former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, could be top of the list. The New York Times notes that pardon-seekers and their allies have employed a range of strategies to get Trump's attention, including spending money at his properties.
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