Trump's pardon of Dinesh D'Souza has nothing to do with Dinesh D'Souza

  • With his pardon of Dinesh D’Souza, President Donald Trump is sending a clear message to the people around him.
  • D’Souza’s tweets are more abhorrent than his crime, but neither are relevant to the story of his pardon.
  • In pardoning D’Souza, Trump is making a calculated, self-serving move.

President Donald Trump’s pardon of Dinesh D’Souza has little to do with protecting D’Souza and everything to do with protecting the man he cares most about – Donald Trump.

In 2014, D’Souza pleaded guilty to making illegal campaign donations through straw donors. But the outrage over the news of his pardon seems to be unrelated to his crime, and has instead focused on his character – or lack thereof.

Twitter has rocketed around old, abhorrent D’Souza tweets which underscore his racism, cruelty, and absolute absurdity. Those are all more than fair accusations. But let’s forget about D’Souza. Even in the story of his own pardon, he is not the protagonist but an irrelevant – albeit lucky – pawn.

Presidential pardons have a mixed history. They can be utilised for selfless purposes, serving justice to a person who was wrongfully convicted or convicted too harshly. They can also fulfil selfish goals – throwing a bone to a supporter or donor.

The Week had a good recap of some of the more controversial pardons in our nation’s history:

“Thomas Jefferson was widely criticised for pardoning allies convicted under the Alien and Sedition Acts. More than a century later, President Warren G. Harding was accused of selling pardons for contributions, and gave one to a mob enforcer suspected in 60 murders. Franklin D. Roosevelt pardoned Conrad Mann – convicted of running an illegal lottery – mainly because he was a close associate of Kansas City’s notorious Democratic boss Tom Pendergast. In 1971, Richard M. Nixon granted clemency to Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa, who was doing 15 years for jury tampering and fraud; in 1972, the powerful Hoffa threw the union’s support to Nixon’s re-election bid.”

And then, obviously, there was President Gerald Ford’s pardon of Nixon.

But Trump’s pardon of D’Souza differs from the examples above in key ways. Jefferson may have been looking out for his allies, Harding may have been profiting from his pardons, FDR may have been trying to please power players, and Nixon may have been trying to make new friends. Trump is doing something much more calculated, and much more self-serving.

Laurence Tribe, the Harvard Law School professor, put it best on Twitter: “Trump’s Dinesh D’Souza pardon today, on top of his pardons of Scooter Libby and Joe Arpaio, make sense only as an elephant-whistle to Michael Cohen & all who know damning things about Trump: protect me & I’ll have your back. Turn on me & your goose is cooked. More obstruction!”

D’Souza is a divisive figure. But ultimately, he’s irrelevant to the larger story. The details of his crime and of his long record of holding abhorrent opinions are a distraction from the more glaring reality: Trump knows that there are people within his inner circle who have the knowledge and the power to do him real harm, and he is doing everything in his power to prove to them that hurting him is not in their best interest.

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