Despite the controversial nature of many of Donald Trump’s presidential pardons, including that of his associate, Michael Flynn, this week, Trump has granted clemency far less than any of his predecessors in the past century, according to a U.S. research group.
The Pew Research Center, using aggregated data from the Department of Justice, said President Trump has issued 29 pardons, including Flynn’s Wednesday, and 16 commutations since taking office in 2017.
By contrast, Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, issued 212 pardons and 1,715 commutations during his eight years in office. President George H. W. Bush issued 74 pardons but just three commutations during his four years in office.
Individuals may appeal to the president for clemency in two forms — sentence commutation and pardons. Generally, a commutation means a reduction, either partial or full, of a convict’s sentence. A pardon relieves a convict of any remaining punishment and/or future consequences of their crime.
On Wednesday, Trump pardoned Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to FBI agents about a series of conversations he had with Russia's then-ambassador to Washington, Sergey Kislyak, about Obama administration sanctions during the Trump presidential transition in December 2016.
“Congratulations to @GenFlynn and his wonderful family, I know you will now have a truly fantastic Thanksgiving!” Trump wrote on Twitter Wednesday, the day before the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday.
The move came as a federal judge was weighing an abrupt decision by the Justice Department earlier this year to throw out Flynn’s case.
Researchers note that while Trump has issued fewer pardons and commutations than his predecessors, the numbers are likely to change in his last two months as president.
“I can't speculate as to the reason why Trump has issued so few pardons/commutations to date or what may happen in the future,” John Gramlich, a researcher at Pew, told VOA in an email.
“But it's not unusual for presidents to grant clemency in the later stages of their tenure, so it wouldn't be a total surprise to see Trump's numbers go up in the next few weeks,” he added.
Trump's pardon of Michael Flynn is his 29th to date and his 45th overall act of clemency (including 16 commutations). So far Trump has used his clemency power less than any POTUS in 120+ years, but there's still plenty of time left in his term. https://t.co/LpzA6CixMJ pic.twitter.com/iOooRa0HJk— John Gramlich (@johngramlich) November 25, 2020
Trump has granted 0.5% of clemency requests made to his administration. But some legal experts anticipate that he may be likely to grant more pardons, particularly of his past associates, who were indicted on charges similar to Flynn’s, before January.
According to The New York Times, lawyers representing Trump campaign advisers, including Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos, could request clemency from the president as he nears the end of his term.
Gates and Papadopoulous were also convicted of crimes unearthed during special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Trump administration’s ties to Russia.
Trump’s first presidential pardon was in 2017 for Joe Arpaio, an Arizona sheriff who was convicted of unlawful racial profiling. The pardon was met with outrage from organizations and activists, including the American Civil Liberties Union, which called the move "a presidential endorsement of racism."