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Republican Mississippi Senator: Trump’s Pardons ‘Smack of Cronyism and Political Favors’

Sen. Brice Wiggins
Mississippi Sen. Brice Wiggins, a Pascagoula Republican, criticized outgoing President Donald Trump's pardons, saying they "smack of cronyism and political favors." Photo courtesy Sen. Brice Wiggins

Sen. Brice Wiggins, a prominent Republican member of the Mississippi Senate from Pascagoula, broke ranks with most members of his party in the state last night as he criticized President Donald Trump’s ongoing pardon spree.

Wiggins, who served as an assistant district attorney for seven years and as a youth court prosecutor for one year before joining the Mississippi Senate in 2012, said in a tweet thread yesterday evening that Trump’s pardons “aren’t good.”

“They smack of cronyism and political favors. As such, they erode our faith in the rule of law,” Wiggins, who chairs the powerful Senate Judiciary Division B Committee, wrote in a tweet thread Friday night.

Among Friday’s slate of Trump pardon recipients are Paul Manafort and Roger Stone, both former Trump campaign aides who were key figures in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into ties between the Trump campaign, Russia and the Kremlin’s attacks on the 2016 election.

Other recipients of the outgoing president’s pardons this week include Charles Kushner, the father of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner who pleaded guilty to tax evasion, illegal campaign contributions and witness tampering; former Reps. Duncan Hunter and Chris Collins, two Republican members of Congress who endorsed Trump early on in the 2016 campaign before achieving convictions on corruption charges; and four military contractors who received convictions in 2007 for killing over a dozen unarmed civilians in Iraq including children. 

“Now, the pardon power of a POTUS or (governor) is sacrosanct, having been carried over from England,” Sen. Wiggins wrote last night. “Historically, it was to check the courts in cases of a miscarriage of justice as judged by reasonable minds. This is a hallmark of checks and balances in the Constitution. BUT more and more, it’s used as a political reward.”

Wiggins’ denunciation of Trump’s pardons is notable; few Republicans in Mississippi have been willing to criticize him or even acknowledge President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. A few Mississippi Republicans have acknowledged Biden’s victory, though, including House Rep. Kent McCarty and Rep. Jansen Owen, who highlighted the historic nature of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ victory. 

But dozens of Wiggins’ colleagues, along with statewide GOP leaders like Gov. Tate Reeves and Attorney General Lynn Fitch, have expressed support for the outgoing president’s thus far unsuccessful attempts to nullify the election results with a court-driven coup. Days after the election, Mississippi House Rep. Price Wallace declared in a tweet that Mississippians “need to succeed (sic) from the union and form our own country.” He later apologized for that remark.

Outgoing President Donald Trump, seen here with First Lady Melania Trump in early December 2020, issued dozens of pardons this week, including some to associates tied to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Trump campaign’s efforts to coordinate with Russia during the 2016 election. Photo courtesy White House

A pardon, Wiggins wrote in his tweets yesterday evening, “negates all the work of prosecutors, judges, defense attorneys and juries who’ve worked the case” and should not “be taken lightly.”

He compared Trump’s pardons to the 140 Democratic President Bill Clinton issued in a flurry on his last day in office in January 2000. Republican prosecutor James Comey (later the FBI director under President Barack Obama) investigated one of Clinton’s pardons in the early 2000s, but did not find that he had broken any laws.

Wiggins also pointed to the controversy former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour unleashed when he issued a torrent of pardons as he was leaving office in January 2012. The Jackson Free Press first reported on Barbour’s pardons, which included setting convicted murderers free.

“It didn’t sit right when Clinton did it nor when Gov. Barbour did,” Sen. Wiggins wrote this evening. “Gov. (Phil) Bryant, former deputy sheriff, never issued a pardon.”

Earlier this year, the Mississippi Republican introduced a bill that, had it become law, would have required the governor’s office to notify a perpetrator’s victims when the governor issues a pardon. It died in the Senate Judiciary Division B Committee.

“I will push it again in #msleg to protect victims,” he said, adding that “taxpayers ARE the victims” of pardon sprees like the one unfolding now.

Correction: Mississippi Sen. Brice Wiggins served for an assistant district attorney for seven years, not 15. He also worked as a youth court prosecutor for one year.

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