Saturday, March 10, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He went out of his way to praise a convicted criminal.

Yesterday, Trump issued his second pardon, to a Navy sailor who took pictures of classified military technology. Kristian Saucier took pictures of control panels and reactor controls of the submarine USS Alexandria while it was underway, including displays that showed its exact location at a given time. When the pictures were discovered and the FBI and NCIS began investigating, Saucier attempted to destroy the evidence. He was sentenced in federal court to one year in prison, an unusually light sentence for the charges he was convicted on.

Trump's interest in Saucier's case appears to be purely political. At his trial, and in his subsequent campaign for a pardon, Saucier compared his crimes to Hillary Clinton's (non-criminal) use of a private e-mail server while she was Secretary of State. In a tried-and-true strategy for influencing Trump, Saucier's advocates made sure his story was featured on Fox & Friends. However, the news of the pardon was somewhat overshadowed yesterday by the burgeoning stories about Trump's entanglements with porn stars and entrapment by North Korea

Today, Trump tried again to call attention to the pardon, offering his "congratulations" and saying that Saucier's other-than-honorable discharge from the Navy meant he'd "served proudly." Trump also implied that he had given Saucier his "freedom." (Saucier has already completed his sentence and has been free for six months.)

Trump's only previous pardon, of Joe Arpaio, was also aimed at scoring political points.

Why does this matter?

  • It's disgraceful for a president to use the power of the pardon to try to score political points.
  • Selectively doling out mercy to political allies is what authoritarians do.
  • It's bad if the president can be this easily manipulated.