US President Donald Trump’s decision to grant a full pardon to former national security adviser Michael Flynn grabbed international headlines on Thursday. Trump is expected to use his clemency power to pardon or commute the sentences of his allies before leaving the office, however, the outgoing commander-in-chief has used the power less frequently than any other president in modern history.
As of November 26, Trump has granted clemency 45 times, including 29 pardons and 16 commutations, which is the lowest of any US president since William McKinley. Trump has received at least 10,051 petitions for clemency but he has used the power for less than 0.5 per cent cases, according to the data from the US Department of Justice.
Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama exercised his clemency power 1,927 times, including 212 pardons and 1,715 commutations. George W. Bush had granted clemency 200 times, while Bill Clinton used the power 459 times to pardon or commute sentences. In terms of percentage, Harry Truman, William Taft, and Woodrow Wilson used their power more frequently than other modern presidents.
The Justice Department’s statistics…do not count clemency granted through proclamation or executive order, such as the actions taken by Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter to forgive thousands of Vietnam-era draft dodgers,” Pew Research Center noted in its report.
The US-based think tank also observed that presidents have “generally become less forgiving over time” when looking at the proportion of clemency requests they have granted.
While Trump has rarely used his clemency power, it has been controversial because of the nature of his pardons and commutations, given a personal or political connection in some of them. Trump used his power to commute the prison sentence of longtime friend and adviser Roger Stone, who was convicted on the charges brought as part of Mueller’s report.
Joe Arpaio: The controversial former Arizona sheriff was convicted of criminal contempt after he defied court order to stop patrols targeting suspected undocumented immigrants. While announcing the pardon, Trump said, “Throughout his time as Sheriff, Arpaio continued his life’s work of protecting the public from the scourges of crime and illegal immigration.”
Susan B Anthony: The American social reformer and women’s rights activist played a key role in the women’s suffrage movement and was convicted of illegal voting and fined in 1873. In August 2020, Trump granted full pardon posthumously to Susan B Anthony for “a wrongful and unjust conviction stemming from the only vote she ever cast in an election.”
Scooter Libby: The American lawyer and former vice-president Dick Cheney’s chief of staff was found guilty of lying about leaks to the media. President George W. Bush had commuted Libby’s sentence shortly after his conviction. The White House said that Libby’s record, since his conviction, is “unblemished, and he continues to be held in high regard by his colleagues and peers.”