Johnson: Pardon Power is Best Vested Solely in the President
WASHINGTON, February 9, 2021 — At the first House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties hearing of the year, “Constitutional Means to Prevent Abuse of the Clemency Power,” Ranking Member Mike Johnson (LA-04) said that “pardon power is best vested solely in the president,” regarding recently introduced House Democrat proposals to curtail presidential pardon power.
Johnson cited Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution which states that “[t]he President … shall have the power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.”
“Some presidents have used this power more than others, depending upon their respective judgment and conceptualization of justice,” Johnson said. “For instance, President Trump issued 237 pardons and commutations during his term in office. President Obama issued 1,927 pardons and commutations, President Bush issued 200 pardons and commutations, and President Clinton issued 457 pardons and commutations.”
“President Obama issued pardons or commutations to Chelsea Manning, who endangered national security by leaking classified information, Oscar Rivera Lopez, a top FALN leader and terrorist, and his Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman, James Cartwright, who lied to federal investigators. President Bush commuted the sentence of Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby. President Clinton issued pardons or commutations to his brother for drug-related offenses, fugitive political donor Marc Rich, his CIA Director, his Housing Secretary, and several individuals convicted for their actions during the scandals of his administration. Most recently, President Trump pardoned Roger Stone and Michael Flynn.”
“All of these presidents exercised their judgment and issued pardons that were controversial with the opposing party,” Johnson continued.
Despite the broad use of pardon power that has varied from president to president throughout our country’s history, the Democrat majority favorably reported the “Abuse of Power Prevention Act,” out of the Judiciary Committee last Congress, over constitutional objections to the legislation raised by Republicans.
And regarding Chairman Steve Cohen’s recently introduced proposal to narrow presidential pardon power, Johnson noted “it vaguely declares that ‘pardons issued for a corrupt purpose shall be invalid,’ without offering a framework or workable standard to determine what amounts to a ‘corrupt purpose.’”
“I’m sure that the majority would argue that certain pardons issued by President Trump were issued for a ‘corrupt purpose,’ while Republicans would argue that they served the interest of justice by ending politically-motivated prosecutions.”
Johnson concluded: “This very issue of partisan passions affecting the judgment of Congress is why the Founders structured the pardon clause as they did... The pardon power is best vested solely in the president, for a president to exercise as they see fit, based upon their personal judgment and notion of justice.”
Watch Ranking Member Johnson’s opening statement here.