“A Criminal Like Trump”: Federal Judge Tosses Aside Judicial Restraint In Public Interview

President Donald Trump has been criticized by Democrats and Republicans alike for his recent spate of pardons, including corrupt ex-congressmen and the father of Jared Kushner. I was one of those who immediately criticized those pardons as manifestly unjustified and inimical to our legal system. However, none of that makes the comments of senior U.S. District Judge Robert Pratt of the Southern District of Iowa any less troubling. Judge Pratt gave an interview slamming the pardons in a departure from judicial ethics rules barring jurists from engaging in such political commentary.

I have previously criticized Judge Emmet Sullivan for using his courtroom to air grievances against President Trump. Platt however dispensed with any pretense of judicial function in airing his grievances over the pardons. He told the Associated Press that “It’s not surprising that a criminal like Trump pardons other criminals. But apparently to get a pardon, one has to be either a Republican, a convicted child murderer or a turkey.”

Pratt was discussing pardons that included former Ron Paul campaign chairman Jesse Benton and campaign manager John Tate, who were convicted at trial of concealing $73,000 in payments that went to a state senator.  Again, my concern with the comments is not the merits but the messenger.

Pratt was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1997 and remains an active judge on a reduced docket as a senior status judge.  As such, he remains subject to the Code of Judicial Ethics.  State judges have been sanctioned for yielding to such temptations to vent their opposition or criticism to Trump.  Federal judges however have engaged in such public commentary without sanctions.

Pratt’s comments raise serious questions under three of the most basic canons of judicial ethics barring judges from engaging in political activities and positions:

CANON 1
A judge shall uphold and promote the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.

CANON 3 
A judge shall conduct the judge’s personal and extrajudicial activities to minimize the risk of conflict with the obligations of judicial office.

CANON 4 
A judge or candidate for judicial office shall not engage in political or campaign activity that is inconsistent with the independence, integrity, or impartiality of the judiciary.

Calling the President of the United States a criminal and denouncing pardons would seem overtly engaging in a political commentary or activity.  It is a troubling dismissal of the long-standing avoidance of such commentary by judges to preserve judicial impartiality.

Making it worse is the fact that Pratt was involved in Sorenson’s case.  He sentenced him to 15 months in prison in 2017 — a surprising departure from the recommended probation of the prosecutors due to Sorenson’s guilty plea and cooperation.  Indeed, Sorenson helped convict Benton, Tate and former Paul deputy campaign manager Dimitri Kesari. His sentencing was troubling for many of us in the defense bar because the recommendation for probation was consistent with past cooperation cases. Pratt’s sentence was not.  Nevertheless, the sentence was within his discretion.

A federal judge has every right to sentence defendants harshly for conduct that they believe warrant added punishment. However, that should be the full extent of their role. They are not grand inquisitors who continue to hound or condemn defendants. They are certainly not appropriate figures to denounce such individuals if they secure commutations or pardons. This is not a personal vendetta and judges should not be seen as wiping up public sentiments against previously sentenced defendants.  Even once a judge leaves the bench, I would argue for continued reticence in making such public comments. However, Pratt has not left the bench. He is still hearing cases while engaging in political commentary.

Much like Judge Sullivan’s use of his final order to condemn former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, this is a gratuitous and injudicious act. Indeed, Pratt is more troubling than Sullivan’s as commentary outside of the courtroom.  Republicans and even Trump associates could well come before Pratt in future cases — facing a jurist who gives public interviews to denounce Trump as a criminal.

Not surprisingly, there has been little beyond praise for Pratt. Call it another example of Trumpunity in our age of rage and hypocrisy. Legal ethicists and experts stretched ethical rules to the breaking point to support actions against Republican lawyers for filing election challenges. Yet, they are again conspicuously silent on these controversy.  Indeed, many Democrats recently denounced public comments by Justice Samuel Alito but have no criticism of Pratt or liberal jurists like the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in far more serious public comments.

What Pratt said publicly was wrong. It undermines not just his credibility but that of his court and his other colleagues.

369 thoughts on ““A Criminal Like Trump”: Federal Judge Tosses Aside Judicial Restraint In Public Interview”

  1. Calling the President of the United States a criminal and denouncing pardons would seem overtly engaging in a political commentary or activity.Especially when there are no facts known to the public (including this judge) that would suggest the President committed any crimes. He must be a deranged partisan who is fundamentally incapable of judging objective reality.

    1. There are plenty of facts suggesting that Trump committed crimes including campaign finance law violations and obstruction of justice.

        1. Yes, there are.

          As a start, do you have your head buried so far that you deny that Trump reimbursed Michael Cohen for illegal campaign contributions in the form of hush money payments, per their agreement?

            1. I take it that your answer for that question is “yes,” but you can’t bring yourself to discuss the evidence.

              1. “Trump reimbursed Michael Cohen for illegal campaign contributions in the form of hush money payments, per their agreement?”

                reimbursed
                illegal campaign contributions
                hush money payments
                agreement?

                None of that is prove unless you accept the words of a convicted liar who has continued to lie to this day.

                We all await the evidence from anonymous knowing it either won’t come or it won’t be proof that all 4 of the above items are correct.

                1. Yes, reimbursed. It’s on Trump’s 2018 financial disclosure form –
                  https://www.businessinsider.com/trump-financial-disclosure-form-michael-cohen-stormy-daniels-payment-2018-5

                  Yes, illegal campaign contributions. That’s one of the crimes Cohen was convicted of –
                  https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-45265546

                  Yes, hush money payments –
                  reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-cohen-idUSKCN1UD18D

                  Yes, agreement. You think Trump would reimburse Cohen if there weren’t an agreement?

                  It’s been proved. There’s oodles more reporting about all of this. Google it yourself if you need other sources. You’re just ignorant or dishonest.

                  1. Meaningless. It was released by Trump “in the interest of transparency.” Anyone who hates Trump can say it was wrong but where does the law say Trump can’t give money to whomever he wants. You have made no case whatsoever and the ensuing years have demonstrated those question to be meaningless.

                    If this is the best evidence against Trump, he may be one of the most honest persons on the planet.

                    This is ridiculous and laughable. TDS has removed your ability to think.

                    1. It’s not meaningless.

                      Trump claimed that he included the information on his 2018 financial disclosure form Trump “in the interest of transparency.” But the Office of Government Ethics said that Trump was required to have included the information on his financial disclosure form and should have included it on his 2017 form: “OGE has concluded that the information related to the payment made by Mr. Cohen is required to be reported and that the information provided meets the disclosure requirement for a reportable liability.” The OGE has more expertise about what needs to be reported on the form, and it has no reason to lie about it. Trump was already hiding the reimbursement, so it’s no surprise that he tries to brush over having omitted it.

                      The most important point, though, is that it confirmed my claim that Trump reimbursed Cohen for the hush money payments.

                      You can’t even bring yourself to admit that he reimbursed Cohen.

                      Your response is ridiculous and laughable. TDS has removed YOUR ability to think.

                    2. “It’s not meaningless.”

                      Insignificant garbage. The claims are poor meaningless opinions that have been left to dry up by themselves because the opinions are wrong, unprovable and insignificant.

                      “and should have included it on his 2017 form:”

                      Wow! That and a NYC token will get you a ride on the bus. I can’t believe you don’t realize how foolish this sounds.

                      “OGE has concluded that the information related to the payment made by Mr. Cohen is required to be reported“

                      Again that might be the OGE’s opinion but others have different opinions. Shucks, I once filled out a form and forgot to do it in triplicate. I’ve been worried ever since that an OGE type would put me behind bars for life. This type of cr-p is ridiculous. I don’t know how many revisions to things of this nature I have had to make in my life

                    3. For the third time, no matter how many times you try to ignore it, it proves that Trump reimbursed Cohen for the hush money payments.

                    4. If this it what it shows then it is a return of money Cohen advanced. If he made an agreement with the woman not to print an article, that is not your affair or the government’s. He has his reason. The word hush money is used to connote an illegality and that is what they are hoping for. They want you confused. If I pay my friend’s rent money and tell no one he was short, for embarrassment sake, you might call that hush money but there is nothing wrong with doing that.

                    5. Looking so forward to, post trump administration, the denialists on this blog further dancing around the charges that come trump’s way. He’s certainly terrified of them. Love that trump got taped in another extortion call yesterday, all Ukraine style.

                      Elvis Bug

                    6. As I pointed out earlier, the hush money payment was an illegal campaign contribution. It’s one of the crimes that Cohen was convicted for. I already gave you evidence for Cohen paying hush money and that being an illegal campaign contribution. Cohen doing this at Trump’s direction and being reimbursed for it makes it a campaign finance law violation for Trump too. We’ll find out whether he’s indicted after he’s out of office. Trump involved the Trump Organization in the repayment scheme, so NY State is also investigating whether NY laws were broken (NY is the Trump Org’s home).

                      Is the problem is that you don’t understand campaign finance laws and violation of campaign finance laws?

                    7. “As I pointed out earlier, the hush money payment was an illegal campaign contribution.”

                      Really? You realize that is a boring opinion that has never been proven. What makes this an illegal campaign contribution (not uncommon to campaigns)? How do you know it was at the direction of Trump? Are we supposed to trust a convicted liar?

                      I understand campaign finance law well enough to remember the fine imposed on the Obama campaign of $375,000.

                    8. Of course there’s was direct evidence beyond Cohen’s own words. There was the evidence that was presented to the judge for the search warrants, and the evidence that the DOJ later added, like the text messages between Cohen and the National Enquirer about paying off Daniels and McDougal to keep them from going public, and public statements by Daniels and McDougal, and the confidential agreements they both signed in exchange for the payments, and …

                      I won’t wast any more time on this with you, wanker.

                    9. Looks like you posted twice. I can’t believe after reading what you posted you decided to post it again. No proof, just a waste of time.

  2. But apparently to get a pardon, one has to be either a Republican, a convicted child murderer or a turkey.Apparently Judge A–hole can’t even speak English. You can’t use “either” with three things. Unreal.

  3. Trump pardoned primarily political victims and prisoners of the left, and I’m good with that. #TrueJustice

    1. No, true justice will be when every single conspirator in the election fraud along with all of their enablers hang by the neck – after a fair trial, of course.

  4. This bias has been evident for a long time. This is why we need separation. Democrats refuse to follow the law or have any ethical constraints. By rights, this judge should be immediately thrown off the bench. Same goes for corrupt and biased prosecutors like Leticia James, govt officials and politicians who go after politicized targets. All need to be out of a job.

  5. https://justthenews.com/politics-policy/elections/nearly-two-months-after-election-pennsylvania-still-uncertain-how-many?utm_source=daily-newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter

    Amid claims of unexplained ballots, Pennsylvania officials unsure how many voted in 2020

    Several counties have not uploaded full “voter histories,” said a spokesperson.

    The state of Pennsylvania is still uncertain just how many residents voted in the 2020 election, a state official revealed this week, amid allegations of discrepancies between ballots and voter rolls in the battleground state.

    Pennsylvania was thrown back into the limelight this week when a group of Republican state representatives claimed to have found “troubling discrepancies between the numbers of total votes counted and total number of voters who voted” in the state last month.

    “A comparison of official county election results to the total number of voters who voted on November 3, 2020 as recorded by the Department of State shows that 6,962,607 total ballots were reported as being cast,” a press release announcing the findings said, “while DoS/SURE system records indicate that only 6,760,230 total voters actually voted.”

    Continue at site.

  6. Jonathan, your integrity verve is truly awesome especially in 2020. I sued the FED (Federal Reserve System) RICO, with 36 others, 2008. Began in 2007, radio show exposing “money”. End of political activism, 2013. One of our experts was Walker Todd (he has a great book he wrote), former General Counsel of Ohio & New York Fed. I’m very lucky to be alive. Falsely arrested x2, tortured and falsely incarcerated. Not only not guilty, indeed proof iron clad. The SYSTEM USA decides and “The Fraternity” (“Black Robed Tyrants”) have sold themselves to the FED.

  7. Like this is some surprise, the entirely one sided rulings on all the Fraudulent Election cases (local, State and SCOTUS) was a big fat clue, or did you miss it? At least this guy admitted it, all the others are hiding behind process reasons.

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