But criticism of this commutation immediately seemed to be decoupled from any foundation in history or in the Constitution. Indeed, Toobin also declared, “This is simply not done by American presidents. They do not pardon or commute sentences of people who are close to them or about to go to prison. It just does not happen until this president.” In reality, the commutation of Stone barely stands out in the old gallery of White House pardons, which are the most consistently and openly abused power in the Constitution. This authority under Article Two is stated in absolute terms, and some presidents have wielded it with absolute abandon.
Bill Clinton committed some of the worst abuses of this power, including pardons for his brother Roger Clinton and his friend and business partner Susan McDougal. He also pardoned the fugitive financier Marc Rich, who evaded justice by fleeing abroad. Entirely unrepentant, Rich was a major Democratic donor, and Clinton had wiped away his convictions for fraud, tax evasion, racketeering, and illegal dealings with Iran.
There is lots to criticize in this move without pretending it was a pristine power besmirched by a rogue president. Indeed, Trump should have left the decision to a successor or, at a minimum, to the attorney general. But compared to the other presidents, this commutation is not even a distant contender for “the most corrupt and cronyistic act” of clemency.