Trump Is Giving Special Treatment To Wealthy Offenders Seeking Clemency

Darren.Woon

All but five of the 24 people who have received clemency from Trump had a direct line into the White House.

Thousands of offenders who follow Justice Department rules seeking clemency may never see it happen under President Donald Trump, who takes cues from celebrities, political allies, and Fox News, according to a review by The Washington Post

Trump’s reelection campaign ran a Super Bowl ad touting his record on criminal justice, but the ad didn’t mention that all but five of the 24 people who have received clemency from Trump had a direct line into the White House.

The Office of the Pardon Attorney in the Justice Department has quietly served as the key adviser on clemency for more than 125 years. However, under Trump, most of the grants have gone to well-connected offenders who have not filed petitions with the office or did not meet its requirements. 

“The joy you get finding meritorious people, working on those cases, making recommendations that got to the White House, seeing people receive the grants -- you feel like you’ve done something,” said Larry Kupers, the former head of the office, who quit last year. “If that’s not happening, it feels like you are spinning your wheels.”

Trump’s six predecessors had signed off on hundreds or even thousands of petitions forwarded from the Justice Department after about three years in office. Most were denials, a disappointing but important step for offenders waiting for an answer who cannot ask for clemency again until they are turned down.

Ronald Reagan set the low bar with 669 decisions in his first three years while Barack Obama processed 3,993 petitions.

Yet, Trump has only ruled on 204 clemency requests, 24 approvals and 180 denials, the slowest pace in decades. 

The Trump administration inherited a backlog of more than 11,300 petitions and as of late January, nearly 7,600 petitions had been filed since Trump took office. About 5,900 petitions have been closed by the pardon office during Trump’s presidency because the inmate was released, died, or was ineligible for clemency. 

“I almost wish it would get denied. At least I would know that someone had looked at it,” said 39-year-old Nichoel Forde, who handwrote her petition in 2016 from the Minnesota prison where she is serving a 27-year sentence for nonviolent drug crimes. 

“It makes people cynical because the process isn’t based on merit,” said Kevin Ring, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a nonprofit that promotes sentencing reform. 

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