On Tuesday night, in addition to issuing a four-minute screed against the new pandemic relief bill passed by Congress, President Donald Trump granted full pardons to a group of three corrupt former Republican Congressmen, four men involved in an infamous massacre of Iraqi civilians while working as Blackwater security contractors, and two campaign associates who were convicted of lying to the FBI as part of the Mueller investigation.

While some have compared the president's actions to questionable pardons made by his predecessors, Rachel Barkow, a professor of criminal justice at NYU Law and an expert on the clemency process, explained that Trump's pardons are "a whole different universe."

"We've never seen anything like this. The bulk pardons for war criminals is unprecedented. Giving pardons to people charged in an investigation of the president himself, unheard of," Barkow told Gothamist. "He's focusing on cronies and political loyalists, in a way that is definitely, certainly more than we've seen in the past."

Former Congressman Chris Collins, of Western New York, was among three disgraced former public servants who received pardons or full clemency from the president. Collins was the first member of Congress to endorse President Trump's bid for the White House. In 2019, he pleaded guilty to insider trading, after giving his son a tip that a biotech company's sole drug had failed a clinical test. Collins's son then dumped the stock.

Collins made the call from a White House picnic; it can be seen in this video:

Collins, 70, had just begun serving his 26-month sentence at a federal prison in Florida a little more than two months ago. Normally, Department of Justice regulations "require a petitioner to wait a period of at least five years after conviction or release from confinement (whichever is later) before filing a pardon application," but waivers may be granted, and these pardons are clearly within the president's power. Collins was released from prison on Tuesday, the Buffalo News reports.

According to a statement from the White House, Collins's pardon came "at the request of many Members of Congress," as did Trump's pardon of former California Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter, who pleaded guilty to using $150,000 in campaign funds for his personal use, including "luxury hotels, overseas vacations and plane tickets for their family pet rabbits, Eggburt and Cadbury." Hunter was set to begin serving 11 months in prison next month.

Trump's commutation of former Texas Representative Steve Stockman's 10-year sentence for a slew of felonies came at the request of "many public figures." Stockman was convicted in 2018 of taking more than $1 million from conservative donors and using it for personal expenses, and had served two years in prison. "Mr. Stockman is 64 and has underlying pre-existing health conditions that place his health at greater risk during the COVID epidemic, and he has already contracted COVID while in prison," the White House release notes.

An Iraqi traffic policeman inspecting a car destroyed by a Blackwater security detail in al-Nisoor Square in Baghdad, Iraq.

Nicholas Slatten, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, and Dustin Heard were part of a group of Blackwater guards who opened fired on Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square, in 2007.

The Nisour Square massacre ended in the death of 14 Iraqis, including two children; 17 others were injured as the security contractors fired grenade launchers, machine guns, and sniper rifles into the public plaza.

“In killing and maiming unarmed civilians, these defendants acted unreasonably and without justification,” the Department of Justice said in a statement during the men's sentencing in 2015, after a years-long, painstaking investigation of the incident. “In combination, the sheer amount of unnecessary human loss and suffering attributable to the defendants’ criminal conduct on September 16, 2007, is staggering.”

The attack was unprovoked, though the White House statement falsely states that "the situation turned violent, which resulted in the unfortunate deaths and injuries of Iraqi civilians."

Slatten, who was the first to begin shooting in Nisour Square, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. The other men had received 30 year sentences.

Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, is the brother of Trump's education secretary, Betsy DeVos.

George Papadopoulos and Alex van der Zwaan, both convicted of lying to the FBI as part of Robert Mueller's investigation into the president's Russian ties, also received full pardons. Both had served brief sentences in federal prison.

Very few of the president's 15 pardons and 5 commutations were awarded to people unconnected to the president or to some larger political struggle, and in most cases, their sentences had already been shortened.

Barkow, the NYU Law clemency expert who has worked on securing commutations for dozens of prisoners, said that Trump's actions cheapen the clemency powers, and make it more difficult for people actually deserving of it.

"The public gets misled in believing that this is some kind of corrupt power that has no place in the Constitutional order, when in fact it really essential. There is no parole in the federal system, there is no second look at someone's sentence, other than presidential clemency," Barkow said. "There's thousands of people who deserve it," she added, pointing to people who were sentenced to "decades for drug crimes, or they committed a violent offense but it's so obvious they're not the same person they were when they did that, they have changed, they have done amazing things while incarcerated."

"It's already hard enough to get governors, presidents to do this. When you add to the mix this grotesque abuse of the power, I think it does make it even more difficult."

With one month left in office, Trump has reportedly discussed pre-emptively pardoning members of his family and close associates, and even himself. Federal investigators are reportedly considering whether to request emails from Trump's attorney, former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani. Trump is also being investigated by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance's office over his financial dealings--were Trump to preemptively pardon himself, he would remain vulnerable to prosecution by Vance, because presidential pardon power only applies to federal prosecutions.

"It's only going to get worse, which is hard to fathom," Barkow added. "I think you're going to get ever closer to his inner circle, that's where you're gonna start to see the potential grants for family members, Giuliani, people who haven't been charged yet...I think that's all to come."