Opinions | Republicans have unleashed an ethical monster
By Jennifer Rubin
The Republican Party, we have noted, has gone from a conservative party to an authoritarian one. With a total of 11 pardons and commutations of rich, corrupt and utterly undeserving men, President Trump has completed the transition from the law-and-order party to the crime-mob party.
President Trump on Tuesday used his sweeping presidential pardon powers to wipe away the crimes of a list of boldface names, including disgraced politician Rod R. Blagojevich, convicted junk bond king Michael Milken and former New York police commissioner Bernard Kerik.
Trump pardoned or commuted the sentences of seven convicted white collar criminals at the center of federal anti-corruption and tax fraud cases spanning decades, alongside four women whose cases were not as well known. …
Also on Trump’s pardon list … [was] Edward DeBartolo Jr., the billionaire former owner of the San Francisco 49ers football team, who pleaded guilty two decades ago to charges related to his role in a corruption case against former Louisiana governor Edwin W. Edwards (D).
While appearing on television (Trump’s connection to the outside world — or, rather, the outside world that the right-wing media would like to exist) was a popular means of getting Trump’s attention, it was no surprise that some of the beneficiaries seemed to have ponied up money to elect Trump. The Daily Beast reported:
For those who didn’t receive the Fox News treatment, it appears that in at least one case, cold hard cash did the talking. Paul Pogue, a construction company owner who pleaded guilty to underpaying his taxes by $473,000 and received three years probation, was issued a full pardon and clemency by the president.
According to FEC filings, Pogue’s family has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in direct contributions and in-kind air travel to the Trump Victory Committee. Beginning in August 2019, Ben Pogue—CEO of Pogue Construction and son of Paul Pogue—and his wife Ashleigh made over $200,000 in contributions to the campaign.
Trump, the corrupt and entitled white male who perceives himself as the perpetual victim, must feel a connection to other privileged, corrupt figures. If they are victims of a rigged or unfair system, he must be, too. (One can now fully appreciate how ludicrous was the defense in the impeachment trial that Trump was motivated by a heartfelt desire to root out corruption. Republicans who parroted this nonsense should be voted out of office.)
Worse still, there is widespread suspicion that this is simply a prelude to pardons for cronies Michael Flynn, Roger Stone, Paul Manafort and others. Trump wants vindication and secrecy, so what better way than to direct senators not to hear evidence of his own misdeeds, delegitimize the convictions of his associates and then, by pardon, obtain their silence and gratitude?
Mimi Rocah, a former prosecutor, tells me: “The pardon power is supposed to be about correcting injustices. There is no reasonable argument that the people pardoned today — all of whom corrupted our financial and political systems in massive ways — were subject to a miscarriage of justice.” She adds, “To the contrary, they are powerful, connected white men who had the benefit of good defense lawyers. It also sends a message to Stone, Giuliani, Manafort and Flynn — that Trump has their back because white collar crime doesn’t count.”
Do his supporters even care that the swamp he promised to drain is more fetid than ever? Are Republicans who emboldened him with an acquittal in his impeachment trial just a tad embarrassed by the normalization, the celebration even, of corruption? Probably not. They have long since discarded any semblance of concern for the rule of law, let alone for decency and propriety.
“President Trump knows voters think he’s corrupt,” says Ian Bassin, executive director of Protect Democracy. “But many of his voters stick with him because they think, ‘They’re all corrupt, so I’ll take my corrupt guy over the other one.’ But whatever flaws American democracy has had over the years, we all agreed we wanted a Republic, and not a King.” He adds, “Trump’s bet is that voters will forget that. It’s our job to make him lose that bet.”
In case one needed further evidence of the urgency of removing Trump at the ballot box and sending his Republican enablers packing as well, this last descent into self-serving veneration of corruption should remind us we are well on the way to banana-republic territory.
Former Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller notes, “Trump has consistently made clear who he believes deserves mercy and who he believes deserves the full weight of federal law enforcement. If you’re a connected Republican, someone whose family can manage to appear on Fox, or someone who commits crimes against the people Trump despises, then he will go to bat for you.” However, Miller says, “if you’re one of the 13,000 whose clemency petition is pending at the Justice Department, and you don’t have anything to offer the president, then good luck.”
The latest outrage should also serve as a wake-up call for Democrats: Choose the candidate who can deliver a victory, a commanding victory, over Trump and his ethically degenerate party. Do not get distracted by fundraising methods or ideological purity. Win. Just win. Our democracy (not to mention our collective sanity) depends on it.