KEY POINTS

  • Trump wants to bypass Justice Department to issue pardons
  • Kushner, Bondi have been tasked with selecting individuals to pardon
  • Trump hopes that he can use pardons to appeal to minority voters

This week alone, President Donald Trump granted clemency and pardons to 11 individuals, bring the total number of pardons during his administration to 29. As the president begins to use his pardon powers more liberally, reports show there’s a move to streamline the process, in part by minimizing the Justice Department’s role.

White House adviser and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has reportedly begun serving a key role in the clemency process, according to the Washington Post. Former Florida attorney general and member of Trump’s impeachment defense, Pam Bondi, is also playing an important part in this task force, where she screens applications requesting pardons. Kushner, however, ultimately has the final say on which pardon requests he will ask Trump to sign off on.

Traditionally, granting clemency was a process that was largely conducted through the Justice Department; now, it’s largely carried out in the White House.

Trump’s pardon picks have frequently courted controversy, and Tuesday’s group was no different. Among the nearly dozen individuals were those who had personal connections to the Trump family or had given his campaign political support. In one instance, Paul Pogue, a construction company owner convicted of underpaying his taxes, had his sentence commuted; Pogue’s son and his son’s wife were found to have donated hundreds of thousands to a Trump super PAC and to Trump’s personal reelection campaign in recent months.

This latest batch of pardons comes at a time when concerns are growing over the narrowing separation between the White House and the Justice Department. U.S. Attorney General William Barr recently came under fire by critics for appearing to take orders from Trump to interfere in the sentencing of former Trump associate Roger Stone. It has prompted Democrats in the House of Representatives to ask Barr to appear in order to explain his decision to seek a reduced sentence for Stone.

Tasking Kushner and Bondi with doling out pardons represents a new push ahead of November; because Trump’s fate at the polls remains to be seen, the president is reportedly eager to make the most of his executive powers while he still can.

Although most of those individuals pardoned this week were wealthy with connections to Trump, three women convicted and imprisoned over nonviolent crimes also had their sentences commuted. These picks may, in part, be motivated by Trump’s desire to present himself as a champion for criminal justice reform, an angle his campaign has been pushing in an effort to appeal to minority voters.

Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior advisor, (pictured March 2019) has overseen the Mideast peace plan Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior advisor, is pictured in March 2019 Photo: AFP / SAUL LOEB