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Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher Is Latest Example Of How Trump Hands Out Clemency


The case of Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher says a lot about how President Trump views his power to pardon people convicted of crimes. Gallagher was demoted after being convicted of posing for a photo beside a dead ISIS militant. Trump ordered his rank to be restored. Today, the president said he was sticking up for the armed services.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Somebody has their back, and it's called the president of the U.S., OK?

CHANG: To understand why Trump went against the advice of Navy leaders, we're joined now by White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Hey, Franco.


CHANG: So can you just first explain how did Gallagher get the attention and the support of President Trump in the first place?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, Gallagher's case received a lot of attention on Fox News and other conservative media outlets. You know, there's a track record here. His first pardon was of Joe Arpaio, the former Arizona sheriff who had been convicted of charges related to his use of racially targeted immigration patrols. Arpaio was an early Trump supporter.

CHANG: Right.


TRUMP: So was Sheriff Joe convicted for doing his job? That's what...


ORDOÑEZ: There are several examples, but probably the most famous one is the case of Alice Marie Johnson. She's the grandmother whose sentence on a drug charge was commuted. Trump didn't know her, but she had some celebrity power on her side. Kim Kardashian, the reality TV star - she was lobbying for Johnson inside the Oval Office.


TRUMP: I thought Kim Kardashian was great because she brought Alice to my attention. Alice was so great. And the way she left that jail, and the tears and the love that she has with her family, I mean, to me, that was better than any celebrity that I could pardon.

ORDOÑEZ: I should note that like Johnson, the president did not technically pardon Gallagher, but he did restore his rank and insist that he be allowed to retire from service while keeping his military pin that's coveted by the Navy SEALs.

CHANG: But is Gallagher's case different from Johnson's and from Arpaio's, because those others did not involve the military justice system as Gallagher's case did?

ORDOÑEZ: Yes, it is different. In the past, presidents have been reluctant to get involved in active legal cases, and this is one involving the military. Not only did Trump offer clemency to Gallagher, he also pardoned two other members of the military who had been accused of war crimes. And like so many other aspects of Trump's presidency, his unconventional approach of doling out leniency has really puzzled people. The president can decide to pardon whomever he wants, but what really stands out is how many of Trump's pardons tie back to him personally.

CHANG: I mean, of course, President Trump - he's not the first president to draw criticism for pardons. So what makes this Gallagher case any different from other presidential pardons?

ORDOÑEZ: Right. President Clinton pardoned fugitive financier Marc Rich. That was very controversial because it was last-minute. President Obama was widely criticized in Republican circles for granting clemency to Chelsea Manning, who leaked classified military secrets. President Trump mentioned that case today. But Obama, Clinton, even George W. Bush waited years to issue their first pardon. And most presidents grant leniency to those who have committed nonviolent offenses.

Historians like Allan Lichtman of American University say Trump has shattered those kind of norms and feels comfortable granting clemency to people who know and support him.

ALLAN LICHTMAN: Trump has used pardons to advance his political ideology, his view of the world and his view of unlimited presidential power. A lot of his pardons didn't even go through the normal review process for pardons.

ORDOÑEZ: But there is a process. There's a process. There's an Office of the Pardon Attorney at the Justice Department. Typically, that office compiles information and makes recommendations. But the president has shown he's comfortable making the move on his own.

CHANG: That's NPR's Franco Ordoñez at the White House.

Thanks, Franco.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.