Last-minute pardons were Trump’s best chance to stick it to the deep state. Instead he caved to Washington interests.
As Donald Trump departed Washington and his presidency on Wednesday, civil libertarian journalist Glenn Greenwald wrote, “Trump left the White House about as weak, cucked, and submissive as it’s possible for a grown adult to scamper away.”
He was too kind.
There could not have been a more swamp-draining exercise imaginable than pardoning Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, something the president had said he might do. As Assange languishes in poor health in a London prison and Snowden and his family remain in exile in Russia, Trump has been encouraged for months by many high-profile, anti-establishment conservatives and libertarians to issue pardons to these men.
Assange “went to jail for telling the truth,” thundered Fox News’ Tucker Carlson on the eve of Joe Biden’s inauguration. “Julian Assange told you a lot about what the U.S. was doing abroad…. Tonight, as one of his final acts as president, Donald Trump has the opportunity to make that right.”
These are people with personal relationships and principled reasons for doing whatever they could to save one of the most important champions for freedom of the press of our time.
What did Trump do instead? He bowed down to Mitch McConnell.
Carlson noted Tuesday that Senate Majority Leader McConnell “sent word over to the White House: ‘If you pardon Julian Assange, we are much more likely to convict you in an impeachment trial.’”
Carlson said McConnell’s hatred for Assange stems from the fact that he “embarrassed permanent Washington.” We learned Monday that former attorney general Bill Barr had an important request as he left his post: “The only pardon he made an effort to preemptively stop was for Edward Snowden,” Axios reported of Barr.
McConnell and Barr are on the same “permanent Washington” team. Trump has to understand this. Why would the political establishment be so hellbent on making sure these men never see the light of day? These are things actual swamp drainers would ponder.
Snowden himself put it into context best: “Reports that Trump has let himself be bullied out of pardoning Assange, mistakenly believing Senate Republicans won’t vote to impeach him if he caves. Once he’s out of power, they’re going to vote to impeach him anyway. Which, well—that’s one way to be remembered.”
Snowden also shared this gem: “My thinking on the Assange pardon is very simple: setting aside all else, Trump will either be remembered as the first President since JFK who from his first to last day in office was hated by the NSA, CIA, and FBI, or as the one who caved to pressure at the very last moment.”
History has judged.
There were valuable pardons and commutations on the White House list released late Tuesday, particularly non-violent offenders serving unusually long sentences due to federal mandatory minimum laws like the one heralded by now-President Joe Biden.
But after four years of complaining about the U.S. intelligence community targeting him, spying on his campaign, concocting conspiracy theories about his alleged collaboration with Russia, and generally doing anything it could to undermine his administration, President Donald Trump had the opportunity to strike the greatest blow possible against the deep state. This was his opportunity to be the ass-kicking, system-bucking hero he promised so many he would be.
And he punked out. For all his macho posturing and braggadocio, Trump backed down. Like a weakling. It was a final, sickening victory of permanent Washington over the man who had once promised to defeat it.
Bravery is doing the right thing in the face of adversity. Donald Trump just did what he was told. What a loser.
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