Pardon Me, Please, Mr. President

Reveal / the Center For Investigative Journalism (11/2/19)

As the House of Representatives continues its impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, we go back in time to the Nixon administration, when the threat of impeachment and a presidential pardon changed the course of history. We then examine the pardons system and learn why it has stopped functioning as originally intended.

We begin our show by finding parallels between Trump and former President Richard Nixon. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election documents instances in which pardons were offered to members of Trump’s administration to keep them from cooperating with investigators. And Trump has said he can pardon himself. Similar scenarios came into play during the Watergate scandal, and in a never-before-broadcast interview, we hear President Gerald Ford explain his decision to pardon his predecessor.

Trump has brought presidential pardons into the news by granting clemency to several controversial people, including Joe Arpaio, a former sheriff in Arizona who targeted immigrants at traffic stops. We go beyond the headlines and tell the story of a pardons system that’s completely broken down. We focus on the case of Charles “Duke” Tanner, a former boxer who is serving 30 years in federal prison after being convicted of drug trafficking. His arrest came during the war on drugs, which started in the 1980s, putting tens of thousands of black men in prison for decades. Tanner has applied for clemency twice, but his application is languishing among 13,000 others at the federal Office of the Pardon Attorney.

Stalled system

We end with a look at why the mechanism for granting pardons has stopped functioning. We meet a pardons advocate and a former staff member of the pardon attorney’s office and learn that the system stalled after President Barack Obama attempted to reduce mass incarcerations from the war on drugs. The pardon attorney’s office has been without leadership for more than two years, and the Trump White House is ignoring its recommendations.

Link To Story and 53-Minute Audio