Federal Judge Slams Donald Trump's Recent Pardons: ‘Not Surprising’

In an interview with The Associated Press, a senior U.S. district judge from Iowa offered a searing indictment of President Donald Trump's recent spate of controversial pardons. The judge said the commutations were "unsurprising" and alleged the president's own wrongdoing.

“It’s not surprising that a criminal like Trump pardons other criminals,” senior U.S. District Judge Robert Pratt of the Southern District of Iowa told the AP this week.

Pratt added that, to get a pardon from Trump, one "apparently … has to be either a Republican, a convicted child murderer or a turkey.”

Just two days before Christmas, Trump issued 29 pardons or commutations to people convicted of crimes.

The list of those who received pardons included several of the president's most loyal allies — such as former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and consultant Roger Stone — and those with family ties, like Jared Kushner's dad, Charles Kushner.

Others pardoned in December include security contractors who were convicted of killing innocent civilians in Iraq and a former K-9 officer who served 10 years in prison after releasing her police dog on a homeless suspect who had surrendered.

Pratt, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1997, was asked for comment on Trump's pardons of two former top aides to former Rep. Ron Paul. The two men were convicted in a bribery scandal related to the Iowa caucuses during Paul's 2012 presidential campaign.

The campaign staffers, Jesse Benton and John Tate, were convicted of concealing $73,000 in payments made to Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson, who left Michele Bachmann’s campaign to endorse Paul.

As the AP reports, Pratt sentenced Sorenson to 15 months in prison for his involvement in the "pay for play" scheme in 2017.

As Pratt told the outlet, the pardons were indicative of political corruption that will "slowly corrode the foundations of our democracy until it collapses under its own weight."

Others have also weighed in on Trump's recent pardons.

After Trump pardoned his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, the federal judge who dismissed Flynn’s prosecution said the act of clemency does not signal innocence.

"President Trump’s decision to pardon Mr. Flynn is a political decision, not a legal one. Because the law recognizes the President’s political power to pardon, the appropriate course is to dismiss this case as moot,"  U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan wrote, as reported by The Washington Post.

Sullivan added that the pardon "does not, standing alone, render [Flynn] innocent of the alleged violation."

Flynn, 61, left his post in the Trump administration less than a month into his 2017 tenure.

He later pleaded guilty (twice) for lying to the FBI during its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, before he sought to take back the plea earlier this year.

United Nations human rights experts also spoke out against Trump's pardons of four American security guards convicted of killing Iraqi civilians 13 years ago.

Four Blackwater contractors were convicted of charges ranging from first-degree murder to voluntary and attempted manslaughter after opening fire with weapons, including machine-guns and grenade launchers, on a street in Iraq in 2007.

Fourteen unarmed Iraqi civilians, including two children, were killed.

The four contractors were among the more-than two dozen to receive pardons from Trump on Dec. 23, a move that members of a UN working group called "an affront to justice and to the victims of the Nisour Square massacre and their families."

In a statement, the UN group said the pardons violated international law: “These pardons violate U.S. obligations under international law and more broadly undermine humanitarian law and human rights at a global level.”

The New York Times editorial board wrote last week that Trump had "made a mockery" of the pardoning process, arguing that it's but one example of the president's "transactional view of the law as something to punish his enemies and to protect himself, his friends and his allies."

While some have speculated Trump may attempt to use his pardoning power on himself or his adult children, he may face charges from which federal clemency could not protect him.

While a presidential pardon sets aside the punishment for a federal crime, the U.S. president does not have the authority to prevent state prosecutors from pursuing charges.

In fact, a presidential pardon could prove risky for someone who is currently under investigation for a state crime, as it eliminates one's ability to invoke their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

State prosecutors in New York are currently investigating Trump’s financial dealings, a criminal probe that's escalated recently with the hiring of forensic accountants, who are reportedly helping determine whether the president’s company manipulated the value of its assets in order to obtain more favorable tax breaks.

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