×

President Trump goes on clemency spree, and the list is long

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump has gone on a clemency blitz, commuting what he called a “ridiculous” 14-year prison sentence for former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and pardoning former New York Police Department commissioner Bernie Kerik, among a long list of others.

Others who got a break from Trump include financier Michael Milken, who served two years in prison in the early 1990s after pleading guilty to violating U.S. securities laws, and Edward DeBartolo Jr., the former San Francisco 49ers owner convicted in a gambling fraud scandal after building one of the most successful NFL teams in history.

In all, Trump took clemency actions related to 11 people, his latest interventions in the justice system as he is under growing fire for weighing in on the cases of former aides. Trump made clear that he saw similarities between efforts to investigate his own conduct and those who took down Blagojevich, a Democrat who appeared on Trump’s reality TV show, “Celebrity Apprentice.”

“It was a prosecution by the same people — Comey, Fitzpatrick, the same group,” Trump said. He was referring to Patrick Fitzgerald, the former U.S. attorney who prosecuted Blagojevich and now represents former FBI Director James Comey, whom Trump fired from the agency in May 2017.

The clemency actions come as an emboldened Trump continues to test the limits of his office now that impeachment is over. The actions drew alarm from Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. of New Jersey, who accused Trump of using his unfettered pardon power “to shield unrepentant felons, racists and corrupt scoundrels”

Blagojevich was convicted on charges of political corruption, including seeking to sell an appointment to Barack Obama’s old Senate seat and trying to shake down a children’s hospital. But Trump said the former governor had been subjected to a “ridiculous sentence” that didn’t fit his crimes.

“That was a tremendously powerful, ridiculous sentence, in my opinion and in the opinion of many others,” Trump told reporters.

Trump also pardoned Kerik, who served just over three years for tax fraud and lying to the White House while being interviewed to serve as homeland security secretary. Trump’s White House lauded Kerik for having “courageously led the New York Police Department’s heroic response to the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001” and said that, “Since his conviction, he has focused on improving the lives of others, including as a passionate advocate for criminal justice and prisoner reentry reform.”

And it hailed Milken for having “democratized corporate finance by providing women and minorities access to capital that would have been unavailable to them otherwise.”

Trump said he had yet to think about pardoning his longtime confidant Roger Stone, who is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday, or granting clemency to several former aides who have ended up in legal jeopardy, including his former campaign manager Paul Manafort and disgraced former national security adviser Mike Flynn.

“Somebody has to stick up for the people,” Trump said.

As for Stone, in particular, he added: You’re going to see what happens. I think he’s treated unfairly.”

As for Tuesday’s actions, Pascrell said “the pardoning of these disgraced figures should be treated as another national scandal by a lawless executive.” He was referring specifically to the actions involving Blagojevich and Milken. And he predicted that, following Trump’s acquittal by the Republican-controlled Senate, “outrageous abuses like these will accelerate and worsen.”

Many of the pardons announced Tuesday were advocated by well-heeled friends of the president, including Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino magnate; the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani; Tom Barrack, the chairman of Trump’s inaugural committee; and Fox News personality Maria Bartiromo.

COMMENTS