On the last night of his presidency, only a few hours after delivering an enervated farewell address, Donald Trump reminded us why he is one of the most bizarre characters in recent American political life by releasing his final list of pardons.
Trump pardoned some 73 persons on his way out the door and commuted the sentences of 70 others. Some of those on the receiving end of his clemency were famous. Most were not. There are not many lists on which Lil Wayne and Kodak Black will appear alongside Steve Bannon and various disgraced former Republican party officials. I was pleased that Kwame Kilpatrick, the former mayor of Detroit whose sentence of 28 years in prison speaks more to the selective outrage of white suburban housewives in his home state than to the severity of his crimes, will be leaving prison soon.
Many of the comparatively unknown persons were obviously deserving: felons who had served their time honorably and devoted their lives to good works. Others, including the bird killer James E. Johnson, the Israeli spy Aviem Sella, three members of a clan of fraudulent South Dakota beef sellers, and many others guilty of financial crimes, seem more questionable. The strangest addition of all was that of Robert Bowker, who pled guilty three decades ago to the crime of illegally transporting 28 snakes owned by Rudy “Cobra King” Komarek to a reptile house in Miami. It appears that the aforementioned monarch offered Bowker a bribe of exactly 22 alligators, albeit one that he did not accept.
Perhaps even more interesting were those whose names did not appear on the list. Trump did not, as some expected, issue pardons to Republican members of Congress for the non-existent crime of challenging the Electoral College results in a handful of states, nor did he extend them to members of his family. Most important, he did force the interesting constitutional question of a self-pardon, likely because the legal action to which he is most vulnerable will come either from state governments or from the United States Senate, from neither of which a pardon would have shielded him.