In a segment dedicated to praising law enforcement, President Donald Trump made a political stunt out of pardoning a formerly incarcerated man during the second night of the Republican National Convention.
Trump granted surprise clemency to Jon Ponder, who founded a support program for ex-inmates after serving time on a bank robbery conviction, at the White House Tuesday night after asking him to share his story.
“It’s just an honor,” Trump told Ponder. “You have done incredible work.”
Several times, Ponder emphasized the importance of letting people who’ve served time start over.
“My hope for America is that formerly incarcerated people will be afforded the opportunity to take advantage of the fact that we live in a nation of second chances,” said Ponder, who runs his organization, Hope for Prisoners, in Nevada.
Ponder also echoed Trump’s talking points about law enforcement, saying the fear he felt toward the police was “due to animosity I had allowed to grow inside of me.”
“Not so long ago, my life was running from the police, fearing the police and avoiding the police, not because of anything the police had done to me personally, but due to the animosity I had allowed to grow inside of me, making me believe that they were my enemy,” he said. “But today, praise God, I am filled with hope, a proud American citizen who has been given a second chance.”
Ponder’s story is inspirational, but Trump is no advocate for criminal justice reform. He has threatened maximum sentences for people who vandalize monuments, denied federal coronavirus relief aid to small business owners with a criminal record, restarted federal executions and ended a program creating education programs in federal prisons.
The programs created under Trump’s First Step Act, which was widely touted at the convention Tuesday night and aimed to reduce the prison population, have been underfunded.
Trump has largely handed out pardons and sentence commutations to his friends and political allies, including his former campaign adviser Roger Stone and ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Lastly, extending clemency to Ponder at the White House as part of a Republican political convention may violate the Hatch Act, which prohibits political activity by government workers in government buildings. While Trump himself is exempt from the law, White House employees are not, and they would be in violation of the law if they helped set up this segment.