PBS NewsHour


Trump's final hours: a flurry of pardons and commutations

Former President Donald Trump's final hours in office included one final sweep of pardons and commutations -- involving 144 people in all, many who are notable Trump political allies. Stephanie Sy spoke with Dan Kobil, a Capital University law professor, to discuss.

AIRED: January 20, 2021 | 0:04:50

JUDY WOODRUFF: Former President Donald Trump's final hours in office, as it turned out, included

one last sweep of pardons and commutations involving 144 people in all.

Stephanie Sy has a closer look.

STEPHANIE SY: Judy, the list of 74 pardons and 70 commutations included many individuals

championed by celebrities and criminal justice advocates, but also notable Trump political


He pardoned his former White House aide Steve Bannon, who faced fraud charges, a big campaign

fund-raiser, Elliott Broidy, who had admitted to breaking foreign lobbying laws. He commuted

the sentence of longtime Democrat and former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, convicted

on racketeering and other counts. And he pardoned famous rapper Lil Wayne, who is facing a weapons


To talk about who was and was not on the list, I'm joined by Dan Kobil, law professor at

Capital University in Ohio.

Professor, thank you so much for being with us.

I want to hone in on the political allies that former President Trump now pardoned or

commuted the sentences for, particularly Steve Bannon.

Bannon has not even been put on trial for fraud charges yet. How unusual is that, and

why is that significant?

DAN KOBIL, Capital University; Dan Kobil, Capital University: That is highly unusual,

Stephanie, because the courts have not even decided whether he's guilty.

So, typically, acceptance of a pardon is an admission that one is guilty of the offense

with which they're charged. So, Bannon has never gone through the justice system, and

the other branches of government have not had an opportunity to weigh in on his misdeeds.

Or perhaps he's innocent.

So, in many ways, the short-circuiting of the system is highly unusual.

STEPHANIE SY: Short-circuiting is one word.

We also know that President Trump did not go through the traditional Department of Justice

vetting process for many of these cases on the commutation and pardons list. What other

precedents were set during the Trump presidency that should be concerning, especially to a

constitutional law professor like yourself?

DAN KOBIL: Many people are highly troubled by the president's pardoning approach, because

it really was the worst of both worlds.

By not going through the Justice Department's process, the president ignored thousands of

ordinary people who had applied for pardons or commutations, typically pardons, in order

to cleanse their records, in order to obtain employment opportunities, or things like that.

Indeed, Trump closed without any action by far the most pardon and commutation requests

in history. So, he was inactive for the vast majority of requests, yet he was active for

those with whom he was connected or had some sort of sympathy.

So, it really was the worst of both worlds, in that it avoided the regular pardon process

that we need to make justice humane, which is what the founders of the Constitution wanted,

yet it shows, in the ones that were granted, that there are really two tiers of justice,

one for those who are connected to the president, and one for everybody else.

STEPHANIE SY: What does the sheer number and nature of the pardons granted by former President

Trump say about his presidency and his legacy, Professor?

DAN KOBIL: The numbers are not that unusual for a Republican president.

Indeed, President George H.W., Herbert Walker, Bush only granted about 77 pardons and commutations.

By the time Trump is done, he will have between 200 and 300. So, I would have to tally up

the exact number. The pardon attorney's office has not published those yet, but his numbers

are not as out of whack with modern presidents. But it's who he pardoned that is highly unusual.

STEPHANIE SY: Dan Kobil, law professor at Capital University in Ohio, we certainly appreciate

your perspective, especially on this momentous day.

DAN KOBIL: Great. Thank you for having me, Stephanie.