WASHINGTON — House Democrats will try to rein in President Donald Trump’s clemency powers on Thursday as they advance legislation that would discourage pardons for friends and family and prevent presidents from pardoning themselves.
While the bills are unlikely to pass the GOP-led Senate, Democrats say a response is necessary after Trump used his clemency power to come to the aid of allies he believes have been mistreated by the justice system, including longtime confidant Roger Stone. Trump this month commuted Stone's prison sentence for crimes related to the Russia investigation.
The move to shield Stone from prison was a dramatic example of Trump's willingness to exert presidential power over criminal cases, including ones prosecuted by his own Justice Department. Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the clemency for Stone an "act of staggering corruption,” while Republicans mostly shrugged off the move or criticized the Russia investigation.
The House Judiciary Committee will vote on two bills and an amendment that would try to dissuade Trump or any future presidents from abusing their pardon powers. One of the measures, by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., would clarify that promising or providing a pardon in return for a “thing of value” violates bribery laws. It would also require that Congress receive all of the case evidence when a president pardons or commutes in cases involving himself or his family, or those that involve lying to Congress.
“The President has the constitutional authority to confer pardons and commutations, but that power is not unlimited, and was provided to remedy injustices, not to cover up for a president or shield him from potential criminal liability," Schiff said.
Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin is proposing an amendment to Schiff's bill to make clear that a president cannot pardon himself or herself. Trump has said in the past that he has the “absolute right” to do that.
The second bill, by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, would suspend the statute of limitations for federal offenses committed by sitting presidents. The statue of limitations is a barrier to prosecuting presidents after they leave office.
Stone was sentenced in February to three years and four months in prison for lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstructing the House investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election. Trump commuted the sentence days before Stone was scheduled to begin it.
Trump has used his clemency powers to help other political allies, including Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was awaiting sentencing at the time, conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza, who had been convicted on campaign finance violations, and Conrad Black, a newspaper publisher convicted of fraud who had written a flattering book about the president.
And he has granted clemency in a host of other controversial cases, commuting the 14-year prison sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat, and pardoning former New York City police commissioner Bernie Kerik, financier Michael Milken and several others.
Trump also commuted the sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, who was serving life in prison for nonviolent drug offenses and who came to Trump’s attention after reality star Kim Kardashian West took up her cause. Her story was featured in a Trump campaign Super Bowl ad.