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[dupe] Trump pardons former Google self-driving car engineer Levandowski (reuters.com)
92 points by SheinhardtWigCo 4 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 86 comments

This is just him giving the bird to tech while doing some key influential people a favor.

Frankly I think he should pardon Snowden and Assange (if he's gonna give people the bird why not extend it to the establishment) and Joe Exotic (because the lulz of doing that would be on brand for him) while he's at it. Unlike Levandowsky, Snowden and (to a lesser extent) Assange are deserving of pardons in much of the public's eyes.

I would say leakers of this kind maybe shouldn't be actively pursued by the justice department outside of the USA. But either (1) pardoning; or (2) failing to pursue within USA; is a tall order.

It licences the principle that intelligence can be leaked without legal consequence "by the conscience" of the leaker.

Is that really how intelligence should be conducted? Most people are idiots; and do not know the ramifications of what they do.

It is perfectly reasonable for something to be both moral and illegal, and remain punishable. Ie., it is Good that these leaks occured, but nevertheless, we require the leakers to pay some cost for it.

If that cost is "in practice" merely exile from the country, that seems a reasonable compromise.

If our justice system does not represent some bid for moral rightness (as flawed as it may be) then what is the point of justice at all? The leakers crimes is in these two cases were mostly pointing out others much weightier violations of the law. Those others have received no punishment, no cost for their crimes. Also, putting the word “merely” before ‘exiled indefinitely from your home’ is personally baffling to me. Especially since one of these people does not live in the US and “in practice” both their lives either were or still are in jeopardy.

Edit: I do think I understand your overall point though. Actually leaking information should be a very serious decision, and should not be taken lightly.

Civil disobedience isn't about avoiding the consequences of that disobedience; it's about doing the right thing even though it's illegal and requires punishment. If your concept of justice can account for civil disobedience like that, that is.

That is to say, if e.g. Snowden's actions were civil disobedience, it's not incoherent to say both that:

1. He was right to leak the info, and

2. He need not be pardoned in the name of justice.

Luckily for you this is exactly how it works in these instances. Those who do right action suffer punishment. While those who did wrong get a free pass to continue doing such.

And I do believe this is inconsistent if you believe that justice has anything to do with right and wrong actions.

Your argument is:

1. There are right and wrong actions. 2. Justice does not decide or even attempt at determining right and wrong. 3. Therefore doing something right or wrong has no bearing on the outcome of our justice system.

As an individual, what your are saying is important and I agree. We have to call upon ourselves to do the right thing in spite of the consequences. But often times civil disobedience seeks to change the injustice of the current system and if that system never changes or adapts as a result then the outcome will always be the same. This may have happened in the case with Snowden (though we can still correct it) but it has not been the same throughout history. I’m very glad that we did not simply exile all our civil rights leaders with no thought given toward bringing a greater sense of fairness to our judicial systems.

> It is perfectly reasonable for something to be both moral and illegal, and remain punishable.

I take extreme exception to the idea that somebody should be punished for an act generally considered moral by the public for the purpose of dissuading others.

If some idiot takes it upon themselves, based on a pardon of Snowden, to reveal something not in the public interest and harmful to the state, let them be punished as a warning to others. Leaks of state secrets have been a reality since the beginning of civilisation, one more isn't going to destroy us.

At least for me it seems that Snowden and Assange are considered deserving of pardons by the part of public which are anti-Trump and the Trump "core audience" would rather pardoning them as insulting.

I think the "Trump core audience" sees Snowden in a positive light. I would venture a guess that the only the people of the "swamp" (i.e. people who's pay stubs have the seal of a TLA at the top) are against Snowden's pardon. Snowden did everything right. He read the room (i.e. looked at what happened to people who used the "proper channels") and leaked more or less the minimum to expose programs that are constitutionally indefensible without some serious mental gymnastics.

Assange is much more controversial, especially now that he won't be extradited and prosecuted, since his crimes are much more political and he wasn't tactful like Snowden, he published everything he got. There's definitely less public support for his pardon but if the goal is to give the middle finger to the establishment this is the better one because it is controversial.

Was really hoping for Snowden. Would have been the perfect FU to Obama/Biden.

So pardons are for sale to the wealthy or well-connected. Maybe this has always been the case, but to see it so blatant...

The power of pardon simply further reduces the trust and legitimacy of the executive branch. At least for humans it should be revoked, I think we can still trust the presidency with the power to pardon turkeys.

Buying your freedom is as old as prisons.

E.g. I just saw someone post this book although the post disappeared (?):

Pardongate: How Bill & Hillary Clinton and Their Brothers Profited from Pardons

My understanding is that there was a criminal investigation of Clinton's Marc Rich pardon that concluded without finding any evidence of criminality. I'm not raising this as a defense of his making that pardon, but rather, to point out that a President selling pardons is and has long been considered a serious crime. The Clinton precedent is a clear illustration. Saying "hey, some book alleges Clinton got paid for a pardon, therefore it's common practice" sounds nice, but ignores the fact that suspicion around Clinton's Marc Rich pardon triggered an extensive criminal investigation that concluded he did not, in fact, get paid for it.

> My understanding is that there was a criminal investigation of Clinton's Marc Rich pardon that concluded without finding any evidence of criminality.

I don't know anything about the investigation, but no finding does not mean no criminality. Ignoring all the politics involved, there are plenty of more mundane examples. Someone attacks you. You call the police. It's your word against theirs and so the investigation is closed because they cannot show that a crime was committed, but you know it was.

The wiki article cited on HW suggests that bribes may have been constructed as either loans (that were not repaid) or as payment to Hugh Rodham for "representing their cases". Neither is criminal, but it's a simple and classic way of taking a bride and turning it legal by putting another sticker on it. Example:


Almon Glenn Braswell was pardoned of his 1983 mail fraud and perjury convictions.[19] In 1998 he was under federal investigation for money laundering and tax evasion charges.[20] Braswell and Carlos Vignali each paid approximately $200,000 to Hillary Clinton's brother, Hugh Rodham, to represent their respective cases for clemency. Hugh Rodham returned the payments after they were disclosed to the public.[21][22] Braswell would later invoke the Fifth Amendment at a Senate Committee hearing in 2001, when questioned about allegations of his having systematically defrauded senior citizens of millions of dollars.[23]

If you're going to make the claim that payment for pardons (as opposed to lobbying) is common and accepted, you should back it up with facts. The actual facts in this case indicate that it wasn't common or accepted (as indicated by the fact that a major investigation was triggered and carried out), and in fact there's no evidence that it occurred in this case. You're now withdrawing to "well, we can't prove that criminal behavior didn't happen". That's true; we also can't prove that the Clintons aren't aliens. It doesn't make your claims any less unsupported.

ETA: The relevance to today is that the same standards will likely apply to any pardons made by Trump this morning. If people paid other parties to lobby for a Trump pardon then it may not be illegal (as much as it's terrible policy.) If direct payments to Trump or his businesses were made then it could be criminal behavior. There's also precedent for appointing a special prosecutor to investigate it.

Meanwhile https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/17/us/politics/trump-pardons...

"The brisk market for pardons reflects the access peddling that has defined Mr. Trump’s presidency as well as his unorthodox approach to exercising unchecked presidential clemency powers. Pardons and commutations are intended to show mercy to deserving recipients, but Mr. Trump has used many of them to reward personal or political allies."

That's about buying access to Trump so people can make their case for a pardon, which is substantively different.

Person gives person B money. Person B gives person A a pardon.

We can say that A paid for access, made a voluntary contribution, lightened their walled, lent out money that didn't have to be repaid, etc. In practice, these are just ways of phrasing "bribe" differently.

That's not what the NYT is reporting, the NYT is reporting that Person A gives person B money, person B provides access for Person A to talk to Person C about giving Person A a pardon.

The pardoner, Person C, does not get any money. That is an important distinction.

I'm not saying Trump isn't accepting payments for pardons, I'm saying the NYT article linked above isn't reporting that. They're reporting on lobbying efforts, which don't appear to be illegal.

People pay for the President's time quite frequently. What's interesting about this story is that the folks with access are trying directly to solicit from convicts. I think that's fairly new or at least newsworthy.

My example is purposely simplified. It's only intended to illustrate how the same situation can be described in different ways. In reality, it makes a lot of sense to add all sorts of layers.

A gives B money, C offers A a parson, B does C a favor.

Etc etc etc.

This construction may obscure what's happening and may even make conviction impossible, which we may take to mean that it's no longer illegal. But legal or illegal, it is effectively paying for freedom.


This has nothing to do with lobbying. Freedom is what people pay for.

If B does C a favor, then it's lobbying. The lobbying laws are there precisely to regulate this kind of thing. You can't completely isolate lawmakers, and wouldn't want to. But you do want to know who they're talking to, and how much they're being paid to. That's why they have to register as lobbyists, and be audited for that. They're not allowed to funnel money or favors, and the FEC is watching.

It's far from perfect, but it's not as nefarious as it sounds. It's a compromise.

Ah, so this is a, "I don't like lobbying" complaint?

Fair enough, lobbying has gotten weird and pay-to-play, though if you don't like what's happening here, I recommend you don't look at what folks are doing about every other major policy initiative throughout Congress.

I don't know, that book looks a bit dodgy - released 6-ish months ago, OK publisher, 6 reviews on Amazon, the co-author seems to be a long-time Clinton enemy (https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/bensmith/man-who-saw-tr...)

The Wikipedia article is probably a better overview: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Clinton_pardon_controvers...


Do you have a source on Reagan and Carter pardoning people who gave them money?

The issue isn't Trump issuing a lot of pardons. It's the corrupt (though legal) influence market that is essentially rewarding him financially for doing it.

It's really frustrating that criminal consequences are moot if you find a way to get this president's attention or loyalty.

Here's the list.


Just browsing the names and convictions it looks like a pretty decent mix of people genuinely deserving and people who have very powerful people advocating for them. Looks like most of the crimes in the list are drug or fraud related.

I haven't gone down the whole thing but the guy who got LWOP for weed (presumably huge quantities of it) caught my eye.

The reason why it exists is important for a democracy. It protects the outgoing administration from political persecution after they leave, promoting peaceful transitions of power and is a safety valve for when the state becomes powerful and goes after people that it shouldn't, which happens all the time.

Unfortunately it is also used by all presidents to pardon their buddies.

> Unfortunately it is also used by all presidents to pardon their buddies.

I may have missed it: did the Obama Administration pardon a single friend or relative of the Obamas'? Or a single person connected to the administration?

I believe that Obama tried to ensure that the pardon process was beyond reproach. (Some people may disagree with who was pardoned, but the process did not appear to be corrupt in any way.)

I read an article yesterday and it suggested that was because George W Bush impressed upon him the importance of having a plan and sticking to it after Bush was surprised at the end of his term with all the people coming out of the woodwork to ask for pardons, so it was on his mind when they met before inauguration. It was an ok article, CNN: https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/18/politics/donald-trump-elevent...

I don't know but he pardoned something like a few hundred people I think? That said, Obama was a class act so I'd absolutely believe he was (is) honest.

Sure, most president pardon a few hundred people. (Ford: 382, Carter: 534 , Regan: 393, Clinton: 396, Bush: 189, Obama: 212)

Obama ensured that there was a process set up that filtered the pardon requests, so that no hint of political- or personal-favors could intrude, no possible quid-pro-quo, etc.

Yes, Clinton's pardoning of his brother-in-law was pretty bad. Trump's pardoning of his entire slate of co-conspirators and personal associates looks worse, to me personally.

> It protects the outgoing administration from political persecution

Aren’t pardons generally given post-conviction? How can it be a tool to protect against an incoming administration if the victim has been convicted under the current one?

Unless you mean that in the future, when the outgoing’s party is back in power they can issue pardons. That doesn’t seem to be consistent with the trend that many pardons are issued on a President’s last day in office (and not his first).

Famously, Ford pardoned Nixon prior to any charges, never mind conviction.

Maybe it would be enough to change the law so a president can only issue pardons in his first year or two each term.

Governors too, I imagine.

Yikes, this is not at all why it should exist, and this is basically an argument for corruption/immunity for the sake of comity.

> an argument for corruption/immunity for the sake of comity

It's not an endorsement of corruption, rather an acknowledgement that the price of comity includes some corruption. This seems like an anti-fragile mechanism to me: in exchange for the inevitable but relatively minor injustice of corrupt pardons, we can pre-empt behavior that could lead to all-out political war that destroys the entire system.

> Unfortunately it is also used by all presidents to pardon their buddies.

I agree, but that's the boolean. There's probably a reasonable float or int description that allows a more nuanced comparison of exactly how much any president did this.

Presidential pardon also weakens Judicial branch and seems to promote lawlessness. I read that some of the recent 'insurrectionists' actions were encouraged by the thought that President could pardon their illegal activity.

This does not seem to be needed in any other western democracy.

> The reason why it exists is important for a democracy. It protects the outgoing administration from political persecution after they leave, promoting peaceful transitions of power and is a safety valve for when the state becomes powerful and goes after people that it shouldn't, which happens all the time.

That's not why it exists. Pardon power exists so the President has a way to declare peace on behalf of the government with an individual. It has nothing to do with transfer of power. It's to ensure that the President has an out to call off the wolves of the rest of the government and put a matter behind us.

> Unfortunately it is also used by all presidents to pardon their buddies.

Which is still less corrupt than pardoning your cocaine trafficking, drunk driving brother: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_Clinton_Jr.#Conviction_a...

I'm not really sure I'd describe that one as "corrupt", which I feel implies a nastier motive than trying to deal with embarrassing family members. A bit questionable and self serving, yes, definitely, but corrupt? Not sure it goes that far tbh.

(An amusing detail from the newspaper reports was that Bill Clinton had authorised the sting operation that resulted in his brother's arrest during his tenure as Govenor of Arkansas). (Ref: https://www.nytimes.com/2001/02/23/us/clinton-pardons-brothe... )

Is there any proof this pardon was purchased, or is it just assumed? Honest question.

Did Levandowski pay Trump?

Trump has been among the stingiest pardoners.

I also have no idea behind the refusal to pardon Assange other than politics. DoJ must have made it clear not to pardon Assange for whatever reason.

He's been the stingiest in terms of giving them out for people who deserve them on account of being ill-served by the criminal justice system, but he's been the most liberal in terms of bailing out his co-conspirators and politically connected elite.

Do we have a list of the “quality” of all presidential pardons?

It may be that proportionally some presidents show certain “favoritism” while others less. But given some pardon in the thousands it’s hard to say without further study that in absolute numbers one self serves more than another except by using biased heuristics.

Do you feel Michael Flynn was well served by the criminal justice system?

Trump was never Assange's friend, and Assange was foolish to assume the enemy of his enemy would be his friend.

Given the way Trump operates in general, there's nothing in the long term that benefits him about having a whistleblower running around free, even if that whistleblower did significant political damage to his opponent one time.

He's pardoned fewer people than all recent presidents except HW Bush:


Maybe the targets are more relevant than the number.

3000 minor drug offenses or 5 mob cronies.

Look at his pardon list from last night. It includes a large number of oversentenced drug offenders including a number of people serving life sentences for marijuana trafficking.

Go here and search for "drug" or "amphetamines". Quite a few non-violent drug offenders with stupid sentences getting pardoned:



Corvain Cooper – President Trump commuted the sentence of Mr. Corvain Cooper. Mr. Cooper is a 41 year-old father of two girls who has served more than 7 years of a life sentence for his non-violent participation in a conspiracy to distribute marijuana.

I have, and I know. The existence of those does not indicate anything about the existence of the other type.

I've found the drug users. You highlight the mob cronies.

I was pointing out a flaw in your logic, not making a claim.

For the sake of argument I could've used "child-eating lizard people".

Oh I see. A strawman.

Not by any definition.

You said he had pardoned fewer people than previous presidents. I said that the number of pardons had no bearing (on whether or not it's abused), and illustrated that point with a hypothetical.

At no point have I made up an argument as yours to attack.

It is not the number of pardons that is unusual (and it’s unsurprising that this administration has done less work than previous ones), but the sense that these pardons are so clearly in service of Trump’s personal agenda rather than true acts of clemency.

Can you find examples of bad pardons from other Presidents? No doubt. But not on this scale.


> Can you find examples of bad pardons from other Presidents? No doubt. But not on this scale.

Which of these is worse than pardoning your own drug trafficking, drunk driving brother?


You mean the one where they already served the full federal sentence?

That's it. It's also the one where having the record of the prior crime expunged made a huge difference in the potential sentence for the DUI he was being prosecuted for at the time.

I'm not sure if it's better or worse to pardon someone above the table like that or for a president to throw their political weight around behind closed doors to get favorable treatment but it's slimy no matter how you cut it.

The drunk driving incident and the following DUI charge came several months after the pardon.

(Correction: it was the dropping of the case was months after the pardon. The drunk driving incident and subsequent prosecution was one month after the pardon)

And the prosecution started before the pardon. He got pardoned because it looked like he wouldn't be able to dodge the charge and was gonna get whacked with the kind of sentence that people with prior felonies get.

Nope. The incident and arrest was on February 17th, 2001 [1]. The pardon was in January 2001.

So it wasn't "months" between them like I originally said (it was months to dropping the case), but it was still after it.

I've added a correction to my comment.

[1] https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2001-feb-19-me-27395...

I misread the date on the wikipedia page.

In any case it still reeks of some animals being more equal than others.

> Which of these is worse than pardoning your own drug trafficking, drunk driving brother?

The pardon of Roger Clinton is bad, but a number of Trump's pardons are worse. The critical difference is that Trump was pardoning people who betrayed the public trust. For example, he pardoned Duke Cunningham [1], a former Congressman who very explicitly sold his votes in Congress. And he pardoned Kwame Kilpatrick [2], the former mayor of Detroit who was elected on a promise to clean up Detroit's city government, but instead installed more than two dozen of his friends and family members in city government (they weren't competent, but they got high salaries), and who was convicted of extortion and racketeering.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duke_Cunningham [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kwame_Kilpatrick

It seems to me that a pardon that merely expunges a conviction for which the sentence was already served (as in the case of Roger Clinton) is quite different from a pardon that shortens or entirely preempts a prison sentence, or in some cases even preempts a prosecution (as in many of the pardons granted by Trump).

Another moral category is that, to my knowledge, Bill Clinton was not an accessory to Roger Clinton's crimes (in fact, as governor, he apparently even approved of his brother's arrest). Trump, in contrast, pardoned a number of people found guilty for crimes related to himself.

See the sibling reply explaining how Roger was being charged with DUI which would have carried much heavier sentences with a prior conviction on his record. The pardon effectively swept his DUI away to a misdemeanor.

The pardon did end up having that effect, but given that the pardon was issued in January 2001 and the DUI happened in February 2001, I have some degree of confidence that this was not intentional.


See the response to the sibling reply which notes that the DUI incident occurred a month after the pardon.

Also, DUI is a state charge. The pardon was for a federal conviction. Do prior federal convictions affect state sentencing?

Whether an individual pardon is good or bad certainly depends on how you feel about the crime committed by the pardoned, and whether we want to admit it or not, at least a little bit on the party of the President who pardons them. Even if you could objectively measure the damage done by any individual pardon (you can't), the good in aggregate outweighs the bad, especially of any one case that we disagree with but 10,000 equally reasonable and intelligent people may think is great.

I probably support this one. Just like I support pardons for non-violent drug offenders. Copyright and patent laws are stupid in the first place.

It’s hard to imagine that Donald Trump, a greedy mogul, pardoned Levandowski because he believes patent law was unjustly enforced

I have yet to see one good historical example or even a hypothetical argument given for presidential pardon to exist. Also, if there really is a separation of power than President should not meddle in Judicial branch affairs.

Hypothetically, a law can be broken in a way where it is moral or necessary to do so, a punishment can be overly severe, or the law itself can be deemed as amoral. For example, should minor drug offenders sit in prison with COVID threatening their lives?

What is moral is in the eye of the beholder. If we are nation of law we follow the law and update it when necessary through Legislative branch. As to your example, Obama pardoned few minor drug offenders but it was a drop in a bucket, one time deal. People who voted for decriminalization of of Marijuana had much larger impact. Presidential pardon is a power given to POTUS that is not needed for functioning of a democratic society. It's a power royalty used to have and should be just used for pardoning the turkeys.

Are you saying that those minor drug offenders Obama pardoned should have waited in prison for some law to maybe pass? Even more important, what about Governor's pardoning powers? Those have been used to positive effect many times, should those go away too?

Its an imperfect system, just following the script that law provides will lead to injustices. Having an escape hatch is a good thing, even if it is occasionally abused. I would support federal/state congresses overturning pardons though.

No but we do not need pardoning in lieu of legal reform

The legal system isn't perfect.

Interesting. What's more interesting is how the market has moved on. There are a bunch of self driving trucking startups with some way further along now.

Thiel went against the grain and supported Trump. Perhaps this was some payback?

> The pardon was backed by several leaders in the technology industry who have supported Trump, including investors Peter Thiel and Blake Masters and entrepreneur Palmer Luckey, according to the White House.

There is a long tradition of thought about mercy. Law has to be rendered at a sufficiently general level in order than it can encompass every relevant case. This, the argument goes, means written law cannot properly deal with context. Many of us realise that, sometimes, the context in which a crime is committed bears upon how just or unjust it is, even if that fact is not accommodated in law.

Anyway, one enduring argument for mercy is that can be exercised on those rare occasions where there is some overwhelming contextual argument for why the general law should be overridden, e.g., the Greek play Antigone is effectively built around just such a case.

Not that this argument has anything to do with Trump's unashamed cronyism and self-aggrandisement. But my point is that mercy isn't just an excuse for base corruption.

It's just amazing how that mercy is only extended to corrupt wealthy people. Antigone is a fitting example, as she was the regent's daughter.

Note the emphasis when I wrote that mercy isn't just an excuse for corruption, i.e. it is mostly, but not entirely. Recall that at the end of the last administration, Obama pardoned Chelsea Manning. Or that Harding commuted Eugene Deb's conviction for sedition during WW1 in 1921. Neither are, as far as I can see, instances of corruption.

This particular case seems almost like the opposite. Cases where you bring prior knowledge from one place to another are typically nigh unprovable. Most people do bring their priors with them, are rewarded for it, and benefit of the doubt is granted that there wasn't a "theft", simply a person moving jobs.

In the rare case where somebody was actually proven in a criminal court to have stolen trade secrets and taken then directly to a competitor, a pardon is issued by a president who has felt antagonized by the former employer. It seems less like mercy and more like vindictiveness.

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