How does the pardon process work?
Typically, offenders make a formal request to the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney, which advises on executive clemency. (The DOJ imposes a five-year waiting period after the pardon seeker’s conviction or release.) The pardon office evaluates the request, then makes a recommendation. There are times, however, when presidents circumvent this process. Former Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a staunch Trump supporter, never submitted a pardon request; indeed, he’d yet to be sentenced for a contempt conviction arising from allegedly brutal and discriminatory immigration-enforcement practices. Yet the president pre-emptively pardoned him. While pardons often do remedy injustice, “presidents have repeatedly used this power for their personal, political, and familial interests,” says constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley.