Joe Barbieri ’23
Last Wednesday, President Donald Trump granted former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn a presidential pardon. Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, responded on Twitter to the pardon by calling it a “Pardon of Innocence” and saying that “it should never happen in our country again.”
After hearing about the pardon, I was not surprised. As President Trump comes to terms with his election loss, I expect him to pardon many more people close to him, including Charles Kushner, the father of Jared Kushner, who was convicted in 2005 of illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion, and witness tampering.
While I believe that President Trump is wrong to pardon General Flynn, the pardon has made me think of other controversial pardons issued by former presidents. I can’t help but remember President Bill Clinton’s pardon of his half-brother Roger, who was convicted in 1985 for cocaine possession and drug-trafficking.
However, when it comes to presidential pardons, there is one that is no more controversial, yet necessary than President Gerald Ford’s pardon of former president Richard Nixon. While unpopular and heavily criticized at first, this pardon was needed to get the country to move forward from the Watergate scandal and to close once and for all the most embarrassing and divisive scandal in our nation’s history.
President Ford, the only person to ever serve as president and vice president without being elected to either office, was confronted with a problem that had no precedent. The resignation of Richard Nixon was the first and only time a president ever resigned the presidency. Nonetheless, despite the political backlash that Ford knew he was to receive, he made the courageous decision to issue the pardon. Ford knew that the only way to begin bandaging up the wounds of Watergate was to pardon Nixon and that as president he could not “prolong the bad dreams that continue to reopen a chapter that is closed.”
Without the pardon, the cloud of Watergate would not have been removed and it would have continued to trouble the nation.
This act of political courage cost Ford re-election in the 1976 election, as Jimmy Carter’s campaign centered around the decision, creating buttons that read “Pardon me, Mr. Ford, if I vote for Carter.”
However, as the years went on, Ford’s fiercest critics began to realize that the pardon was truly the right move. Senator Ted Kennedy, a fervent critic of the move, praised Ford years later, saying that “America was fortunate that it was Gerald Ford who took the helm of the storm-tossed ship of state” and that “President Ford made a courageous decision” to issue the pardon.
Connecting this to the Flynn pardon, I think it is important to distinguish between the two. While Trump’s pardon of Flynn was purely personal and served no other purpose but to return the spotlight to him, President Ford’s pardon was one that was used for the public good.
I also think that it is important to remember President Ford’s courageous decision, as political courage is a quality that is needed more than anything in today’s political world. Lastly, President Ford should not only be remembered as a devoted servant to his country, but also the man who took the reins of a country in turmoil and was able to bring back honor to the Oval Office.