President Donald Trump’s two “surprise” appearances during Tuesday’s convention blatantly used his presidential powers to advance a political message — advancing the impression that Republicans are exploiting his office to support his reelection.
In pre-taped videos, Trump issued a pardon for a man who robbed a bank in Nevada and later founded an organization for former inmates; the President also presided over a naturalization ceremony for new American citizen. The two acts flex the powers of the incumbency during the highest-profile political event of the calendar.
All presidents, in some way, use the powers of their office when it comes time for reelection. That includes highlighting executive orders that benefit key voting blocs or touting foreign policy achievements only available to the sitting commander-in-chief.
But never have those moves been so blatantly staged for political gain — as they appeared to be Tuesday, with highly-produced videos meant for debut at a political convention.
Trump had already been accused of violating ethics norms by utilizing the White House for his convention speech on Thursday. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, whose speech Tuesday is unprecedented for the country’s top diplomat, is now being investigated by House Democrats for the convention speech he taped from a hotel rooftop during an official trip to Israel.
But the two appearances Trump was planning Tuesday were the most direct use of his office for political gain. Pardon power is one of the most sweeping prerogatives a president enjoys, spelled out in the Constitution. Trump has previously deployed it for political allies or people with high-profile cases.
On Tuesday, the White House released a video clip on YouTube of Trump issuing a full pardon for Jon Ponder, a former bank robber and the founder and CEO of HOPE for Prisoners, a ministry in Las Vegas that helps those who are incarcerated reintegrate back into the community.
They also posted a video of Trump overseeing a naturalization ceremony for five new US citizens. He emphasized the achievements of each of the citizens, and congratulated them on coming to the country legally.
“You followed the rules, you obeyed the laws, you learned your history, embraced our values, and proved yourselves to be men and women of the highest integrity,” the President told the participants.
Both events occurred at the White House. Administration officials have said previously that Trump’s use of the building doesn’t violate any laws, and that staffers are permitted to participate on their own time as long as his appearances occur in the residence portion and not the West Wing.