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December 20, 2017

"President Trump Commutes Sentence of Sholom Rubashkin"!?!?!

The title of this post is the headline of this press release from the White House this evening.  Here are the details:

Today, President Donald J. Trump commuted the prison sentence of Sholom Rubashkin, an action encouraged by bipartisan leaders from across the political spectrum, from Nancy Pelosi to Orrin Hatch.

Mr. Rubashkin is a 57-year-old father of 10 children.  He previously ran the Iowa headquarters of a family business that was the country’s largest kosher meat-processing company.  In 2009, he was convicted of bank fraud and sentenced thereafter to 27 years in prison.  Mr. Rubashkin has now served more than 8 years of that sentence, which many have called excessive in light of its disparity with sentences imposed for similar crimes.

This action is not a Presidential pardon.  It does not vacate Mr. Rubashkin’s conviction, and it leaves in place a term of supervised release and a substantial restitution obligation, which were also part of Mr. Rubashkin’s sentence.

The President’s review of Mr. Rubashkin’s case and commutation decision were based on expressions of support from Members of Congress and a broad cross-section of the legal community. A bipartisan group of more than 100 former high-ranking and distinguished Department of Justice (DOJ) officials, prosecutors, judges, and legal scholars have expressed concerns about the evidentiary proceedings in Mr. Rubashkin’s case and the severity of his sentence.  Additionally, more than 30 current Members of Congress have written letters expressing support for review of Mr. Rubashkin’s case.

Because I have some personal history working on this case, I am not inclined to comment at great length beyond wanting to here praise President Trump for bringing some (non-political?) attention to his historic clemency powers through this grant. I also will link to some prior posts about this long-controversial case.

Some of many prior posts on the Rubashkin case:

December 20, 2017 at 07:35 PM | Permalink


Hooray! Judge Linda Reade won’t be lifting her flask for this one.

Posted by: FluffyRoss | Dec 20, 2017 8:14:34 PM

Judges who emulate
prosecutors involving criminal trials belong in a different profession
in a ☠⚰☠ ; their choice •


Posted by: Docile the Kind Soul in Oregon | Dec 21, 2017 10:01:17 AM

You claim that this is not a political act?

Posted by: whatever | Dec 21, 2017 10:41:02 AM

Poor defendants of color who are involved in far less egregious frauds and are convicted at trial are sentenced to more excessive sentences than this person has served. Completely appropriate however that the commutation is given on the same day the GOP completed the "most massive" heist in US history.

Posted by: whatever | Dec 21, 2017 10:45:23 AM

Selective use of his clemency powers for favored defendants [why is this solitary guy guilty of bank fraud with 10 children -- notable for some reason -- chosen?] doesn't really help encourage a process where the power is used consistently in a broader fashion. So I don't see how much "praise" is really warranted here.

Posted by: Joe | Dec 21, 2017 11:10:45 AM

Unlike Obama against whom the Professor offered unrelenting criticism he now praises Trump who is clearly using his power to benefit the rich and powerful.

Posted by: whatever | Dec 21, 2017 11:21:11 AM

whatever: I see every act by every Prez to be political in some way, but some uses of the clemency power are obviously more political than others. This one strikes me as less political than the Arpaio pardon, but I would not contend that any Prez action in this arena was "not a political act." My comment above was a contention/hope that this Rubashkin clemency would bring some attention to his historic clemency powers that were not merely based in (critical) political terms. But it would seem, whatever, that you still see/criticize this decision largely in political terms (as is your right, of course).

Meanwhile, I criticized Prez Obama because he talked a big game about criminal justice reform on the campaign train in 2007, but then failed to use his clemency power in any way for his first two years in office, and only granted one commutation during his entire first term. If Prez Trump grants simply one more commutation over the next three years, he will have a better first term record than Prez Obama. As one who has long advocated for all modern Prez to use their clemency powers more, I praise those who do and criticize those who do not. Prez Trump has a lot more work to do on this front, but he has now done more on this front in his first year than did any of the last three presidents over their first two years in office.

Posted by: Doug B. | Dec 21, 2017 2:16:45 PM

"simply one more commutation over the next three years, he will have a better first term record than Prez Obama"

President Obama did various things, be them not enough for a strong supporter of reform in this area, to advance the issue of criminal justice reform. One aspect, but one, would be those parts of PPACA that have assisted those in the criminal justice system. This was touched upon on this blog as I recall in a few entries. But, if Trump grants "simply one more commutation," perhaps like this one rather clearly a special interest grant,* he would have a "better first term record" than Obama. As one who supports reform, this sort reaching to find anything possible good in one hand but being a stricter grader on the other, does not come off as very fair. Whatever's response might be a tad blunt, but you know, it isn't simply from left field.


* I think it is actually BETTER in a major way to not have a stand alone politically motivated usage of one's commutation/pardon power as compared to Obama's more slow and steady consistent usage.

Posted by: Joe | Dec 21, 2017 3:42:47 PM


I see the commutation in political terms too. Sure, it isn't political in the blue state red state sense but that is not the only kind of politics that exist. How can anyone ignore the fact that he was/is wealthy and Jewish? I don't think he owes Trump anything: if I have any measure of the WH it is the son-in-law to whom Rubashkin owes the thanks. In other words, even if one thinks that Rubashkin's sentence was unfair (a dubious proposition but let's grant it for the sake of argument) why among all the injustices that exist in the world today is it THIS injustice that attracts Trump's attention? He had powerful friends, that is all. Rubashkin belonged to the right "in-group". There is no crime in that..it is not a crime to be Jewish or financially successful...but Rubashkin is yet more evidence that justice in this country is bought and sold to the highest bidder.

Posted by: Daniel | Dec 21, 2017 3:45:35 PM

Joe, I am a much stricter grader of Prez Obama because he campaigned on bringing "a new dawn of justice in America," and yet he largely ignored that pledge in the clemency arena until the second half of his second term. At the end, he did a whole lot (though still not nearly enough), but I think he was rightly criticized by many for not doing more earlier ESPECIALLY BECAUSE HE CAMPAIGNED PROMISING TO DO A LOT MORE.

Meanwhile, Prez Trump campaigned on being tougher on crime, and yet he granted a significant commutation sooner than any Prez in a long time. Like you, I would like to see this kick off a slow and steady consistent use of clemency powers. But every journey starts with a single step, and Prez Trump made that step sooner than others.

Meanwhile, Daniel, I am certain Jared Kushner helped bring this case to Trump's attention, but hundreds of prominent folks on both sides of the aisle brought this case to Prez Obama's attention. Do you think Prez Obama was inclined to reject the prospect of clemency because Rubashkin did NOT belong to the right "in-group" from Obama's perspective?

I think the best response to the concern that this one person got a break while other similar folks did not is to urge decision-makers to give other folks more consideration. It will always be "political" what types of offenders a Prez wants to focus on, but it ought to be constructive how the criminal justice community responds when relief is given in whatever form. In this particular setting, I always think "here are more who merit consideration" is a more constructive response than "you should not have given that person special consideration."

Posted by: Doug B. | Dec 21, 2017 5:43:58 PM


@Doug writes, "In this particular setting, I always think "here are more who merit consideration" is a more constructive response than "you should not have given that person special consideration."

Well....that might be a more constructive response if one thought that building on this action was possible. Given, however, that I am deeply skeptical and even cynical about Republican efforts on justice (any kind of justice, not just criminal justice) count me among those who think that "here are more" is a waste of breath. Let me put it this way: actions speak louder than words and when Trump actually does something to address the chronic injustices in America I will allow myself hope. Until then, nope.

Posted by: Daniel | Dec 21, 2017 6:37:18 PM

Fluffy Ross has it right, beat me to the punch. So I will smile and be content in knowing that a bunch if people have been hammered to the cross by this former judge.

Especially drug cases, guideline sentences and every engancement applied, rarely any reductions. When a judge goes too far, big writeup for those that havent read her part in this case. Fluffy great job and so few words gettingbthe job done. I tip my flask to you.

Posted by: MidWestGuy | Dec 22, 2017 12:17:48 AM

This has the appearance of a special interest commutation, just like the Arpaio, so there is nothing particularly "significant" about it coming from Trump. We had every right to expect such things from him. The fact they don't match his general rhetoric isn't exactly praiseworthy overall. Actually, his rhetoric at times was that he would break the normal rules to get things done, so you know, fair warning.

Obama used some enthusiastic language like politicians tend to do and once they are in office they repeatedly find out things are harder, especially when the other party more than usual don't want to play. Obama did get some stuff done. One more commutation won't make Trump more impressive here unless you use two standards.

Posted by: Joe | Dec 22, 2017 11:09:03 AM

Joe, it is 100% true when it comes to legislation, presidents "repeatedly find out things are harder, especially when the other party more than usual don't want to play." But clemency is different, which is why Obama could get so much done on his own on this front in 2015-2016, and why I criticized so much for doing so little on his own on this front from 2009 to 2014. And, "special interest" or not, Prez Trump softened the severity of federal sentencing for one imprisoned soul in his first year, while Prez Obama did not do that for any imprisoned soul his first two years. After 8 years in the Oval Office, I would bet Obama's commutation record will be better (because he closed on an historic pace). But, stunningly, if Trump is not re-elected, he would not have to grant any more commutations in order to tie Obama's first Term record.

That all said, I would be greatly surprised if Trump's CJ reform record ends up in the ballpark of Obama's, but Trump did not campaign promising CJ reform like Obama did. My standard is based on part on what a politician had promised to deliver and what seems feasible. Obama promise to bring in "a new dawn of justice," and really did not deliver in the CJ arena despite some good (and some not-so-good) efforts.

Posted by: Doug B | Dec 22, 2017 2:07:06 PM

Daniel: I certainly see a reasonable basis for being "deeply skeptical and even cynical about Republican efforts on justice," so I can respect the suggestion that one not "waste time" urging Prez Trump to do more clemency or more in the CJ reform arena. But I actually think Trump may be subject to doing something through effective cajoling in part because he seemingly has few core commitments in this context AND he may have unique contempt for certain kinds of prosecutorial/judicial decisions. Clearly Rubashkin supporters figured out a way to effectively cajole here, so maybe others can be effective in other settings.

Posted by: Doug B | Dec 22, 2017 2:21:07 PM

Let's hope the defendant makes his restitution payments.

Is Pollard in Israel yet?

Posted by: federalist | Dec 22, 2017 7:12:07 PM

Joe, either Trump's action was justified or it was not. You don't opine on that.

here's a blast from the past:


Posted by: federalist | Dec 23, 2017 11:56:01 AM

"Joe, either Trump's action was justified or it was not. You don't opine on that."

I actually did "opine on that" (critique of the selective nature and like) but commenting on something Doug or whomever said is allowed too.


Doug, you can keep on going on, but one more commutation by Trump isn't going to impress me much vis-a-vis Obama, including taking into his complete record. You can critique Obama vs his rhetoric etc. all you wish [though him having high flowery rhetoric while running is imho not exactly too noteworthy -- that is what people do, partially out of naivete of what they can do with the system in place].

Posted by: Joe | Dec 24, 2017 3:03:46 PM

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