Stitches for snitches

By Sam Patten | Jan 22, 2021

Before pivoting to the hopes, expectations, limitations and challenges of the newly minted presidential administration, there is still work to do understanding the lessons of the outgoing one. There are many, but for me, the biggest one had to do with justice.

For some supernatural reason, I woke up at 2:15 a.m. Wednesday morning to check the pardons list and, unsurprisingly, I wasn’t on it.

There was no real reason to believe I would be. I hadn’t asked, nor filled out the application. One senator — not from Maine — took it upon himself to write White House counsel arguing for a pardon on my behalf, even though I didn't ask. That letter meant more to me than the outcome it was seeking. That senator, who shall remain nameless, attested to the value of my activity to his committee — even if it was technically criminal.

I was one of the two Mueller targets not to be pardoned, the other was former Manafort lieutenant Rick Gates. The reason we were singled out — despite Trump’s will to erase all traces of Mueller’s existence? It is because we were, from the perspective of those granting pardons, snitches.

According to their rules, snitches get stitches, not pardons.

At this point, it would be easy to highlight the many unsavory figures who did get pardons and proceed to whine about how life isn’t fair, but I have reason to resist this temptation.

As I made it clear to the number of friends who asked if they could intercede on my behalf, my belief was, and is, given a limited number of pardons available, they should go to those serving disproportionately long sentences for non-violent, victim-less crimes. Here, I’ll give Trump some credit.

Among the final batch of 11th hour pardons, at least a third of them were precisely the kind of people described, for whom a pardon would mean much more. This includes people serving life sentences for marijuana, which is now legal in nearly half of all American states.

While our prisons house some legitimately dangerous people, like the guy who stabbed me eight times in November, they also hold in suspension more lives of non-violent and reformed citizens who could be meaningfully contributing to society, if they are let out.

Also, Trump did not pardon himself, any member of his family or his personal attorney, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani. Whether this is due to uncharacteristic restraint or unmoored confidence is hard to say, but it is certainly noteworthy.

Christians believe mercy is not merited, and is granted by God through his/her divine grace. We have replicated that in our governing systems that allow the sovereign power of clemency, which is necessarily imperfect, because it is profane.

Still, the sovereign should consider this higher example when exercising his/her pardon power. From Marc Rich to Roger Stone and Steve Bannon, there are many examples that make someone wonder whether the pardon power is ripe for abuse and should be limited or eliminated.

Yet what the pardon represents is, to my thinking, more important than these ugly examples. It represents hope for redemption and a second chance. Boarding up that window would be a mistake for a nation that is hungry for hope.

Before I went to sleep Tuesday, I read an interesting piece where former President George W. Bush talked about his thinking on pardons. Among recent presidents, he granted the fewest. He saw the frenzied rush of people seeking his favor in the final days at first frustrating and later disgusting, he wrote in Decision Points. That is why he only granted pardons that came up through the Justice Department’s Office of Pardon Attorney, i.e., the seldom used official channel.

He didn’t pardon his vice president’s chief of staff, cutting a very different path than the most recent Republican president. Libby (whom Trump later pardoned) and his allies might not have liked that, but I’m beginning to see the wisdom of it.

I will probably never again be able to own a firearm, will have to finagle my way into Canada should I choose to go there, and will continue to be denied mortgages, employment and other opportunities because of my extant felony, but I knew that when I pleaded guilty. I’ve served my sentence and got my stitches, and I’m probably going to be OK.

Instead of a pardon, I got a gift: an appreciation of how hard it is to either achieve or experience justice. In this respect, we all have our work cut out for us, and it’s work worth doing.

Sam Patten is a recovering political consultant, who was raised in Knox County and worked for Maine’s last three Republican senators.

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