Early this morning, in the final hours of the Donald Trump presidency, the outgoing president granted pardons and commutations for federal charges to several political and cultural figures, as is his right under Article II of the Constitution.
Among the most notable were former Trump aide Steven Bannon, former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, and rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black. In total, pardons were issued to 73 individuals and 70 more had their sentences commuted.
Also on the list of pardons was a prominent North Carolina political figure: former area Congressman and NC GOP chairman Robin Hayes. He served 11 terms as congressman of NC’s 8th district, stretching from Cabarrus to Hope counties, encompassing Fayetteville, Albemarle, and my hometown of Concord.
In 2020, Hayes pled guilty to a reduced charge of lying to the FBI, after initially being charged with corruption, bribery, and making false statements in the infamous scandal to pressure then-Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey.
Hayes was alleged to have funneled more than $2 million from billionaire Greg Lindberg to the NC GOP, intending to illegally donate to Causey’s campaign in exchange for removing an assistant who was overseeing Lindberg’s insurance business.
The alleged bribery scheme was a total and utter breach of the public trust, facilitated by our state’s Republican Party chairman. Separating the fact that Hayes was able to escape the most serious charges, he should not have been granted a pardon.
There are currently more than 3,000 people imprisoned for nonviolent drug offenses in North Carolina, according to the Department of Public Safety, and 450,000 nationwide. Mostly of those cases involve marijuana possession, and were disproportionately brought against Black and brown people. Hayes’ ability to plead to a lesser charge and skate by with probation, in contrast to how those folks are treated, should have left us appalled and outraged.
This is not an argument for increasing criminalization and punishment, but rather for making our system more just and fairer. There are people far more deserving of a pardon.
Apart from the thousands of our fellow citizens in prison for nonviolent offenses, Trump could have easily pardoned Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, currently awaiting extradition to the U.S. in the United Kingdom, alleged Silk Road founder and Internet entrepreneur Ross Ulbricht, and government whistleblower Edward Snowden, living in exile in Moscow.
According to Trump’s executive action, Robin Hayes’ pardon was sought by U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis and several members of our state’s congressional delegation. One can assume they were looking out for their fellow Republican because of his long-standing reputation.
As the great-grandson of Concord-native industrialist James Cannon, founder of the Cannon Mills Corporation, once the largest textile manufacturer in the world (and new namesake to the Kannapolis Class A minor league baseball team), Hayes is the closest thing we have to Charlotte-area royalty.
During his time in office, there is no doubt that he lobbied hard for local interests.
As a young college student interested in politics, I wrote to Hayes’ office in 2008 to ask how he would vote on the TARP program, proposed to stem the coming economic crisis in the waning days of the Bush Administration. He wrote back explaining his intention to vote against the $700 billion bailout bill but lauded an amendment he helped introduce to extend tax breaks for NASCAR tracks.
My opposition to the unfairness of corporate welfare aside, there is no doubt that Hayes has been a towering figure in North Carolina politics, love him or hate him. But owing to his alleged crimes and breach of the public trust, his presidential pardon would have been better used for someone else.
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