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President Trump Pardons Conservative Commentator Dinesh D'Souza


President Trump is adding to his list of high-profile political pardons. This morning, he issued a full pardon to conservative commentator Dinesh D'Souza. D'Souza pleaded guilty in 2014 to making illegal campaign contributions.


Trump also told reporters on Air Force One today that he had others in mind for presidential leniency. He said he's considering commuting the sentence of Rod Blagojevich, the former Democratic Illinois governor convicted of corruption. He had appeared briefly on Trump's show "The Apprentice."

KELLY: And President Trump also spoke of pardoning Martha Stewart. She served five months in prison for conspiracy and obstruction of justice. The president said she was his, quote, "biggest fan in the world" before he became a politician. All three, the president said, had been treated unfairly.

CORNISH: Mark Osler joins me now. He's a former federal prosecutor. He now teaches law at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis. Welcome to the program.

MARK OSLER: Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: So what do you make of today's news, not just the pardon of Dinesh D'Souza but the report of the other names that the president is considering?

OSLER: Yeah, it's not unusual for a president to use clemency for political allies and friends. We've seen that with prior presidents of both parties. But what may be different here is that it may feel like a jab at opponents of the president as well. You look at who prosecuted the people mentioned today, and it's striking what they have in common.

Dinesh D'Souza was prosecuted by Preet Bharara, who was fired by Trump as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York and then became a critic of the administration. Martha Stewart was actually prosecuted by James Comey and Rod Blagojevich by Patrick Fitzgerald, who's a friend and ally of Comey. There seems to be a trend there.

CORNISH: Critics of the president have been speculating that these pardons could be designed to essentially send a message, specifically a message to Trump associates who could be swept up by the Mueller investigation. Does that seem plausible to you?

OSLER: I guess it's possible. But this president doesn't seem to be a person who sends subtle messages. He sends pretty clear ones and sometimes confusing ones - but certainly not the nuance that's being credited with this. I think there's a lot more to do with rewarding friends and taking swipes at enemies.

CORNISH: Presidential pardons it seems like are always controversial in some way, right? Any given president may have adversaries who criticize his choices. How does this compare to past presidents?

OSLER: It's a different kind of criticism than we've seen in the past. I mean, certainly when President Clinton pardoned Marc Rich, there was outrage, and that was something that was an isolated incident. You know, there was a couple others that were questionable at the end there. What we're seeing with President Trump is that he seems to be spacing them out throughout his administration in terms of giving the controversial clemencies to people like Joe Arpaio and now to Dinesh D'Souza. So that's one thing that is very different.

The other is that there is a consistency to it so far. Now, that may change as we go forward. We can hope certainly that as time goes on, there'll be a broader mix of who receives clemency and it won't be just those who have, you know, political connections or an affiliation with the president but a broader group of people who have been treated unfairly.

CORNISH: Why does this matter? What's significant? I mean, this is a power that is specific to the presidency.

OSLER: It is. And in a way, it's the soul of the Constitution because it is a power to grant mercy. It cuts the other way from the usual powers that are employed by government. And because of that, it has great symbolic importance. It tells us who we're willing to forgive, who we're willing to give a second chance to. And if you look at the presidencies of the past, where their sympathies and their hearts were often reflected most clearly by how they used this constitutional power.

CORNISH: That's Mark Osler of the University of St. Thomas Law School. Thank you for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

OSLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.