besieged with requests from lackeys and sycophants and hangers-on and D-list celebrities who all believe the president may grant them a get-out-of-jail-free card (or, in the case of his children and Giuliani, who have not been charged or convicted of any crimes, a get-out-of-ever-being-held-accountable card). Even the Tiger King has made his case to the president.
Many expect that the president will issue a flurry of pardons and commutations, and this largesse will be bestowed much like the measly 11 pardons and commutations he’s issued so far: on people who worked for him, people who supported him, people could incriminate him and people who personally impress him (sometimes via reality television stars, because we are living in the worst of times).
Brandon Bernard, who was just 18 when he joined a group of friends for what he thought was going to be a carjacking and a robbery; one of his friends ended up murdering the couple the group robbed, in a brutal act Bernard had not foreseen and was horrified by. At trial, Bernard’s lawyer, who had never argued a federal death penalty case before, barely mounted a defense and failed to call important witnesses. Several members of the jury that convicted him now say that he should not be executed. And there’s Lisa Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row, who committed an awful crime – she murdered a pregnant woman and stole her baby – but also has a severe and debilitating mental illness, and, her lawyers say, was psychotic when she committed that heinous crime.
No one is asking the president to pardon Bernard or Montgomery. They are only asking that he commute their death sentences, relegating them instead to life in prison, which is hardly a free pass. While Trump considers pardoning his own children for whatever crimes he believes they have committed, he’s refusing to save the lives of Bernard and Montgomery – even though both of them are someone’s child, too.
And it’s even worse than that: this is only an issue because Trump’s attorney general, Bill Barr, chose to bring back the federal death penalty – he didn’t have to, and like several of his predecessors he could have chosen not to, but he made it a priority to use the power of his office to kill Americans. Before Trump took office, there hadn’t been a federal execution in nearly two decades. That changed under Barr – who claims, appallingly, to be “pro-life.” After more than a 30-year period with just a single federal execution (under George W Bush in 2003), in the little more than a year since July 2019, the federal government has executed eight people. They’re continuing executions even after Americans voted Trump out of office, something so highly unusual it hasn’t been done since 1889.
And now that their days in power are waning, the Barr justice department, apparently not content with executing Americans by lethal injection, is going an even more gruesome route: they are quickly pushing through new rules that would allow the federal government to kill prisoners via electrocution and firing squad.
There’s no “humane” way to execute a human being. But there are certainly symbolically vicious ways. And that is what this administration is embracing as it continues its execution spree.
Trump’s utter lack of mercy isn’t particularly surprising. But it is abhorrent and scandalous that he has ramped up his cruelty toward death row inmates while simultaneously abusing his power to protect his family members and the various criminal toadies in his orbit. And it is pathetic that Republicans have nothing to say about these excesses, while the “pro-life” groups that back the president have largely fallen silent. It seems all lives don’t matter after all.
This president’s use of his clemency power is not about justice or fairness or law or order; it’s about protecting criminals who work in his service, and it’s about as venal, depraved, and corrupt as it gets.