Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont on Wednesday sent a letter to the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney seeking information on whether it was consulted before President Donald Trump granted clemency to 11 individuals Tuesday.
“I write to urgently request information about what role, if any, your office played in President Trump’s decision to issue a series of controversial pardons and commutations,” Leahy wrote.
The letter comes after Trump wielded his presidential pardon power to grant a wave of seven pardons and four commutations in several highly politically sensitive cases. The White House did not provide evidence of a detailed pardon process conducted through the Justice Department, and the President did not explain his decisions at length.
The DOJ’s non-partisan pardon office — which the President is not required to consult — is set up to handle pardon petitions utilizing established standards and procedures.
Earlier this month, in response to an inquiry from Leahy and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, the Justice Department said that Trump had used the office to review only six of the 22 pardons and commutations he had granted at that time.
Calling the office a safeguard to ensure “pardon powers are exercised fairly and in the interests of justice,” Leahy wrote: “What process President Trump relied upon — and what motivated him to grant yesterday’s pardons and commutations — merit serious scrutiny.”
Trump’s latest wave of pardons and commutations, some of which he has been considering for years, come amid a post-impeachment flurry of presidential prerogative, from ridding his team of aides he deemed disloyal to flagrantly inserting himself into Justice Department matters.
Trump called one of the sentences “ridiculous” and said he relied on recommendations from others to make the decisions.
“These are all people that you have to see the recommendations. I rely on recommendations, very importantly,” he told reporters at Joint Base Andrews before departing for a western swing Tuesday afternoon.
The 11 individuals included convicted white-collar criminals and Rod Blagojevich, the former Democratic Illinois governor accused of attempting to sell a US Senate seat.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.