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By 9:27 p.m. Bernard was dead. In that moment, he became the ninth of 13 people executed in the final six months of the Trump administration " more federal executions than in the previous 10 administrations combined. Of the 13, six were put to death after Trump lost the election, his Justice Department accelerating the schedule to ensure they would die before the incoming administration could intercede. Before Trump, there had been only three federal executions since 1963; in January 2021, Trump oversaw three executions during a single four-day stretch.
Two years before that stretch, Trump had signed perhaps the lone broadly popular major initiative of his presidency: a bipartisan criminal-justice reform bill. By 2020, however, his political calculus had changed. As he geared up for another election, Trump White House sources say, the president was telling advisers that carrying out capital punishment would insulate him from criticism that he was soft on crime. And in his attorney general, Bill Barr, a longtime death-penalty advocate, he had the perfect accomplice.
The executions, carried out in the name of law and order, took place at a time of peak lawlessness within the White House. While his administration killed prisoners at an unprecedented clip, Trump spent his final months attempting to overturn the 2020 election, culminating in the Jan. 6 ransacking of the U.S. Capitol. And though Trump did show some mercy on his way out the door, it was largely reserved for political cronies such as Paul Manafort and Roger Stone.