January 07, 2022

Hirono, Cortez Masto and Blumenthal Introduce Legislation to Ensure Transparency and Accountability for Presidential Pardons

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced the Abuse of the Pardon Prevention Act to ensure transparency and accountability for presidential exercise of the pardon power. The legislation allows Congress and the Inspector General of the Department of Justice (DOJ) to assess whether a conflict of interest or any other impropriety surrounds a pardon that directly involves the president or the president’s family. This legislation was initially introduced during the presidency of Donald Trump, after repeated indications by his administration that he was willing to use his constitutional powers to obstruct investigations, and reward those who remained loyal to him. The bill was re-introduced last year after President Trump pardoned his former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, during his last month in office.

“No one is above the law, including the president. After four years of Donald Trump abusing his power to benefit himself and his family, we need to restore public trust in the office of the president,” said Senator Hirono. “This bill would allow for more transparency into the use of the pardon process and hold any president who corruptly uses the executive power to protect themselves or a family member accountable.”

“Americans expect their president to serve the country, not himself,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “This legislation works to ensure that the powers of the highest office in the land are not used to obstruct justice or dole out favors, and that no president, regardless of party or politics, can abuse the pardon power for their own gain.”

“This bill would stop any president from weaponizing the pardon power to serve corrupt self-interest. As President, Donald Trump granted pardons to cronies and friends seemingly to impede investigations of wrongdoing that implicated him,” said Senator Blumenthal. “We must ensure that this abhorrent abuse of power never happens again. By requiring fuller public disclosure, this measure helps deter misuse of the pardon power for corrupt purposes, such as presidents shielding themselves or others from accountability.” 

"The President's power to grant pardons is a tool designed by the framers to forward the ends of justice. Donald Trump's routine and flagrant abuse of this foundational constitutional responsibility demonstrates the need for transparency in this process," said Noah Bookbinder, president of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "The Abuse of the Pardon Prevention Act would address these problems by providing the public with key insights into the pardon process, ensuring that any president who uses this power in circumstances that appear to be for his or her benefit can be held accountable."   

The Abuse of the Pardon Prevention Act of 2022 would require the White House and the DOJ to turn over evidence to appropriate congressional committees and the Inspector General of the Department of Justice in the event the president bestows pardons with certain conflicts of interest. The bill would apply to pardons made in connection with an investigation in which the president or one of the president’s family members is a target, subject, or witness; to certain offenses related to congressional proceedings or investigations; or to offenses related to refusing to testify or produce documents to Congress. The bill establishes that abuse of the pardon power can be a criminal offense under the federal anti-bribery statute, and it makes clear that the president may not pardon him or herself.  

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