Donald Trump Jump Starts RNC Night 2 Opening With On-Air Pardon For Criminal Justice Activist

Dominic Patten and Ted Johnson
·2 min read

Donald Trump went straight for the drama tonight at the opening of the Republican Convention with a full pardon direct from the White House on TV.

In a pre-recorded video near the beginning of Night 2 of the RNC’s virtual gathering, the former Celebrity Apprentice host exercised his presidential prerogative for criminal justice activist and Hope for Prisoners, Inc CEO Jon Ponder. Ponder was handed a 5-year sentence behind bars for bank robbery, Upon his release, he founded the non-profit that provides rehabilitation services to former convicts and seeks to help them gain employment.

Donald Trump Jump Starts RNC Night 2 Opening With On-Air Pardon For Criminal Justice Activist Jon Ponder
Donald Trump Jump Starts RNC Night 2 Opening With On-Air Pardon For Criminal Justice Activist Jon Ponder

“Jon’s life is a beautiful testament to the power of redemption,” Trump said, with Ponder and former FBI Agent Richard Beasley bookending him. “I will continue to give all Americans, including former inmates, the best chance to build a new life and achieve their own American Dream.”

On a night that is drenched in politicization, the previously announced Executive Grant of Clemency follows a lackluster opening night for the GOP that resulted in low viewership. Themed as “America, Land of Opportunity,” tonight will see Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaking from the Middle East and First Lady Melania Trump as the headliner addressing viewers from the recently renovated Rose Garden.

The Ponder pardon and its presentation is reminiscent of when Trump awarded conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh the Medal of Freedom in the grand setting of the House chamber at the State of the Union. That reality TV moment has reportedly become a gold standard for Trump in how he wants to be seen playing the role of POTUS — and tonight was a redux.

While some pundits praised the pardon for Ponder — they blasted the president for doing it as programming for a political convention. On CNN, Van Jones said that while Ponder’s story is a “beautiful story,” but, “I don’t think it is appropriate to do it at a political convention …It’s a sacred power the president has, only executive has it, and you end up cheapening it, and you’re using it as a political stunt, and I don’t think that is necessary.”

More from Deadline

Best of Deadline

Sign up for Deadline's Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.