President Donald Trump issued 15 pardons and five commutations Tuesday, favoring the well-connected while appearing to shunt aside more than 14,000 people who have applied for clemency through a Justice Department office that handles such requests, Politico reports. Some actions seemed intended to send clear messages, such as grants of clemency for George Papadopoulos, the former campaign operative whose 2016 activities triggered the FBI probe that led to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and to four security contractors convicted for massacring Iraqi civilians in 2008. The signal of Trump’s disapproval of Mueller’s investigation was unmistakable. His pardons for the contractors and for two Border Patrol agents also fit a pattern of Trump’s using his constitutional clemency power to rein in efforts to police the conduct of military and security personnel. That has prompted pushback from military leaders who fear a loss of discipline among those who routinely use deadly force.
The pardon list fulfilled a longstanding tradition followed by many presidents of favoring political allies. Recipients of Trump’s newest pardons included his first two congressional endorsers, former Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) — convicted on charges related to insider trading — and former Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), who pleaded guilty to flagrant campaign finance abuses, including some to support extramarital affairs. Collins was serving a 26-month sentence. Hunter had yet to begin his 11-month term. Trump commuted the sentence of former Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX), convicted in 2018 on fraud and money laundering charges. Stockman had served two years of a 10-year sentence. Margaret Love, who served as pardon attorney under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, said she hopes pardons to those without high-level connections will emerge between now and when President-elect Joe Biden takes office.