President Donald Trump has granted clemency to several controversial people, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Trump’s friend and political operative Roger Stone. But what about the people who have applied through the official process and are waiting for answers? We go beyond the headlines and tell the story of a pardons system that’s completely broken down. In 2019, we focused on the case of Charles “Duke” Tanner, a former boxer who was sentenced to life in federal prison after being convicted of drug trafficking. His arrest came during the war on drugs, which started in the 1980s, disproportionately putting tens of thousands of Black men in prison for decades. Tanner applied for clemency twice, his application just one among 13,000 others waiting for a decision at the federal Office of the Pardon Attorney when our show first aired. In this episode, we learn what happened after the president heard about Tanner’s case.
Next, we look at why the mechanism for granting pardons has stopped functioning. We meet a pardons advocate and a former staff member of the pardon attorney’s office and learn that the system stalled after then-President Barack Obama attempted to reduce mass incarcerations from the war on drugs. The pardon attorney’s office has been without leadership for more than four years, and the Trump White House is largely ignoring its recommendations.
We end our show by looking at the rarest of pardons: when the person receiving a pardon is the president. Trump has tweeted that he has the authority to pardon himself, a concept that first was discussed during the Nixon administration. In that case, former President Richard Nixon eventually was pardoned by the next president, Gerald Ford. In this story, we hear Ford explain in his own words why he decided to pardon his predecessor.
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