Once again, President Donald Trump has treated his solemn power of the pardon like it’s an executive perk. Last week he handed one to pal Conrad Black, the billionaire former publisher and convicted fraudster who wrote a glowing book about Trump. He also pardoned another pal, Patrick Nolan, a crooked Republican politician who has been publicly critical of the investigation into Trump’s campaign.

They follow previous pardons for Joe Arpaio, the disgraced former Arizona sheriff who waged a sadistic war on migrants, and Dinesh D’Souza, the right-wing troll and fellow “birther” who flouted campaign finance laws. It’s a growing list of Trump friends, allies and sycophants gaming a process that was supposed to be about mercy.

The Constitution gives presidents power to grant “reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States.” It’s supposed to be a last-ditch mechanism to prevent miscarriages of justice, not reward criminal cronies.

Trump isn’t the only president to grant controversial pardons — Bill Clinton’s last-minute flurry of them was dubbed “Pardongate” — but never in modern memory has a president wielded pardons for such blatantly self-serving political and personal reasons.

Trump’s earlier pardons of Arpaio and D’Souza were meant as a thumb in the eye to political norms and a gift to the worst elements of his base, which delighted in seeing these avowed deplorables be rewarded for their bigotry.

Trump’s pardon Wednesday of Black, a close friend and slavish supporter of the president, is more personal. Black’s columns for years have lavished Trump with personal praise — the currency this president holds most dear. Black’s book, “Donald J. Trump: A President Like No Other,” came out last year and is exactly what it sounds like.

“I won’t forget!” Trump tweeted gratefully in 2015, in response to one of Black’s public compliments. Never mind that Black, a British citizen, was sentenced to prison in the U.S. in 2007, serving three years, then was deported, for swindling millions of dollars from investors.

Nolan, Trump’s other pardon Wednesday, is also a family friend. The former Republican leader of the California State Assembly, he was convicted of racketeering in the 1990s for accepting illegal campaign contributions and spent two years in prison. Nolan’s post-incarceration work for prison reform is admirable, but it’s not a stretch to conclude that what put him over the top with Trump were his public statements savaging the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller.

With various Trump associates still facing trials or sentencing, there’s no telling when he might take his abuse of pardons to the next level by handing them out to shut witnesses up about him and his campaign. There’s no blueprint for dealing with presidents willing to so openly misuse their pardon authority, and limited options to address it, but every move Trump makes in this realm should be kept under a bright light.

Editorial by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Visit the St. Louis Post-Dispatch at www.stltoday.com
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