President Trump distributed mercy to a new group of loyalists and wiped out convictions and verdicts on Wednesday as he aggressively used his power to override courts, juries and prosecutors and apply his own standard of justice for his allies.
One pardon recipient was a family member, Charles Kushner, the father of his son-in-law Jared Kushner. Two other pardons have declined to work with prosecutors in connection with the Special Representative’s Russia investigation: Paul Manafort, his 2016 campaign chairman, and Roger J. Stone Jr., his longtime informal advisor and friend.
They were the best-known names in a series of 26 pardons and three commutations announced by the White House after Mr Trump left for his private club in Palm Beach, Florida on vacation.
Also on the list, released Wednesday, was Margaret Hunter, the estranged wife of former Representative Duncan D. Hunter, Republican of California. Both pleaded guilty to misusing campaign funds for personal expenses.
Mr. Hunter was Pardoned by Mr Trump on Tuesday as part of a first pre-Christmas wave of pardons on 20 convicts, more than half of whom did not meet Justice Department guidelines for examining pardons or commutations. These included a former Blackwater security guard who was sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in the 2007 murder of 17 Iraqi civilians.
Of the 65 pardons and commutations Mr Trump granted before Wednesday, 60 went to petitioners who had a personal bond with Mr Trump or supported his political goals, according to a chart from Harvard Law School professor Jack Goldsmith. While there are no similar numbers for previous presidents, legal experts say those presidents have given a far lower percentage to those who could help them personally and politically.
Mr. Trump’s use of his powers to grant mercy to allies and supporters has even been criticized by some Republicans. “This is rotten to the core,” said Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska.
The pardons granted to Mr. Manafort and Mr. Stone on the same day will be of great importance especially to the former Special Advisor Robert S. Mueller III and his team.
Mr Trump’s attorney at the time, John Dowd, reportedly raised the issue of pardons with attorneys for Mr Manafort in 2017. At the time, Mr Manafort considered working with prosecutors.
Prosecutors believed that if there had been a connection between Russian officials and the Trump campaign, either Mr. Manafort or Mr. Stone would have known. Mr Trump later explicitly expressed support for Mr Stone’s refusal to speak to investigators.
Some investigators believed that private discussion of pardons and public statements by Mr Trump may have affected their ability to uncover the facts.
The wording of the pardons for Mr. Manafort and Mr. Stone reflected Mr. Trump’s complaints about the Mueller investigation and referred to the “Russian collusion fraud”, “prosecutorial wrongdoing” and “injustice”.
71-year-old Manafort had been sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for his role in a decade-long multi-million dollar financial fraud program for his work in the former Soviet Union.
68-year-old Mr. Stone, whose 40-month sentence had previously been commuted by Mr. Trump, has preserved his innocence and insisted that there was prosecutorial wrongdoing. He was convicted on seven counts of lied to Congress, manipulated witnesses and obstructed the House’s investigation into possible coordination of the Trump campaign with Russia.
Mr Kushner’s pardon was one of the most anticipated of the Trump presidency. The father-in-law of the President’s elder daughter Ivanka Trump, Mr. Kushner’s prison sentence was a burning event in his family’s life.
Mr. Kushner, 66, In 2004 pleaded guilty to 16 cases of tax evasion, a single case of retaliation against a federal witness, and a case that he lied to the Bundestag Electoral Commission in a case that was also a blatant family drama. He served two years in prison before he was released in 2006.
The witness he retaliated against was his brother-in-law, who, along with his wife, Mr. Kushner’s sister, worked with federal officials in an investigation into campaign funding against Mr. Kushner.
In his consent form, Mr. Kushner admitted that he had arranged for a prostitute to seduce his brother-in-law in a New Jersey motel room that had video cameras installed. Mr. Kushner then had the videotape sent to his sister.
The case was followed by the then U S. Attorney Chris Christie, a longtime Trump friend who later became New Jersey Governor. Last year, Christie said Charles Kushner committed a “heinous” and “disgusting” crime.
Jared Kushner worked on the overhaul efforts of the criminal justice system at the White House, partly because, allies said, he was marked by his father’s time behind bars. And he had a strained relationship with Mr. Christie for years, which helped to ban him from his role in making the transition, almost immediately after Mr. Trump’s surprise election victory in 2016.
Other recipients of the pardon announced by the White House on Wednesday included Mark Shapiro and Irving Stitsky, whose 85-year sentences were commuted by Mr Trump for their role in a real estate investment scam.
Her case was delayed by some advocates of conviction overhaul as an example of the huge differences between the penalties offered in plea agreements and those imposed after trial. Mr Shapiro was offered a plea with a sentence of five to seven years and Mr Stitsky a deal with a sentence of seven to nine years.
Her quest for commutation has been supported by a number of groups and individuals who have lobbied Mr. Trump on clemency issues, including Alice Johnson, whose life sentence on drug charge was commuted by the President in 2018 at the insistence of supporters such as Kim Kardashian.
Others who received pardons or commutations included a former K-9 police officer serving a 10-year prison sentence, the White House said for releasing their dog over a badly bitten burglar suspect, and two former Conrad Black employees, the former media baron who was found guilty of fraud and obstruction in 2007 and pardoned by Mr Trump in 2019.
At the pardon of Mr. Manafort and Mr. Stone, Mr. Trump continued to dismiss the work of the Müller investigation, which the President and his outgoing Attorney General William P. Barr have attacked over the past two years. Mr Trump had already pardoned or commuted the sentences of three others who had been prosecuted by Mr Müller’s office, including two on Tuesday.
The President has long complained that the investigation was a “witch hunt” and a “hoax,” and pressured Mr. Barr to prosecute some of the officials he accused, including Joseph R. Biden Jr., Former Presidents Barack Obama and James B. Come on, the FBI director Mr. Trump fired.
Mr Barr, whose last day in office was Wednesday, reiterated Mr Trump’s criticism of the investigation and ordered an investigation into its origins, but to the President’s frustration, he did not charge anyone for it prior to last month’s election.
But Mr. Barr assisted Mr. Stone’s prosecution while Mr. Trump commuted Mr. Stone’s sentence in July and July apologized Mr. Flynn last month.
President Trump has discussed possible pardons that could test the limits of his constitutional powers to waive criminal liability. Here is some clarity about his pardon ability.
- Can a president grant potential pardons before an indictment or conviction? Yes. In Ex parte Garland, an 1866 case involving a former Confederate Senator who had been pardoned by President Andrew Johnson, the Supreme Court stated that the pardon “extends to any offense known to the law and can be made at any time after yours Inspection can be carried out. either before legal proceedings or while in pending or after conviction and judgment. “It is unusual for a president to issue a potential pardon before a charge is brought, but there are examples, perhaps the most famous 1974 pardon of President Gerald R. Ford by Richard M. Nixon to prevent him after that Watergate scandal will be prosecuted.
- Can a president forgive his relatives and close allies? Yes. The Constitution does not prohibit pardons that create the appearance of self-interest or conflicts of interest, even if they could provoke political backlash and public disgrace. In 2000, shortly before he left office, President Bill Clinton issued a number of controversial pardons, including to his half-brother Roger Clinton for a cocaine conviction in 1985 for which he served about a year in jail Susan H. McDougal. A former Clinton business associate who was arrested as part of the Whitewater investigation.
- Can a president grant a general pardon?It is unclear. Usually pardons are written to specifically describe what crime or activity they apply to. There is little precedent for the extent to which a pardon can be used to instead exclude criminal liability for anything and everyone.
- Can a President forgive himself?It is unclear. There is no definitive answer as no president has ever tried to apologize to himself and then has been prosecuted anyway. As a result, there has never been a case where the Supreme Court had an opportunity to resolve the issue. In the absence of a precedent, legal thinkers are divided on this matter.
- You can find more answers here.
The president has long publicly questioned the prospect of pardons for employees involved in investigations. Critics argued this was an attempt to convince them to remain silent about any violations by Mr Trump.
Even when he agreed to work with the Special Adviser’s Office, Mr. Manafort’s senior attorney Kevin M. Downing continued to inform Mr. Trump’s personal attorneys about an unusual arrangement that raises questions about which side Mr. Manafort is on .
Some of Mr. Downing’s public statements also appeared to be aimed at instilling sympathy for Mr. Manafort of the west wing. Mr Downing repeatedly said that prosecutors in the case had no evidence that the Trump campaign had conspired with Russia to influence the 2016 elections, although possible links to Moscow sabotage were outside the purview of the trial.
Mr Trump repeatedly expressed his condolences to Mr Manafort, describing him as a brave man who had been ill-treated by the Office of the Special Representative. After Mr Manafort was sentenced to three and a half years imprisonment in a conspiracy case in March 2019, the president said: “I feel very bad for Paul Manafort.”
Mr Manafort was released early from prison in May due to the coronavirus pandemic and instead locked up at home.
Mr Manafort has no legal problems and a case in New York has not yet been fully resolved.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. charged Mr. Manafort with mortgage fraud and more than a dozen other state crimes in March 2019 to ensure that he would continue to be prosecuted if Mr. Trump finally pardons him. Presidential pardons apply only to federal and not state laws.
However, in December of that year, a New York trial judge ruled that the charge was in violation of the Double Endangerment Act, a decision that was upheld by an appeals court earlier this October.
Mr Vance’s office, which has sought permission to appeal this decision to the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, said in a statement Wednesday evening that Mr Manafort’s president’s pardon clarifies that the state charges will stand should.
Other presidents have made extensive use of grace in their final days in office, sometimes benefiting political allies or people close to them.
President Bill Clinton on his last day in office in 2001 pardoned or commuted the sentences of more than 175 people, including his half-brother Roger Clinton, who had been convicted of drug charges, and his former Whitewater business partner Susan H. McDougal, who was incarcerated for refusing to work with Ken Starr’s team cooperate investigation of the President.
Mr. Clinton was particularly badly criticized for pardoning Marc Rich, a financier who fled the US to avoid taxation and whose ex-wife donated large sums to Mr. Clinton’s future presidential library.
Particularly angry about Mr. Rich’s pardon was Rudolph W. Giuliani, who was the American attorney whose office was Mr. Rich’s pursuit and who is now the President’s personal attorney. “He never paid a price,” said Mr. Giuliani of Mr. Rich in 2001.
After losing re-election in 1992, President George Bush pardoned former Defense Minister Caspar W. Weinberger and five others who were attacked by prosecutors in the Iran-Contra scandal. Mr Bush believed that a new charge against Mr Weinberger, which challenged the President’s report on his own actions, released days before the election, would seal his defeat. Independent attorney Lawrence E. Walsh charged Mr. Bush with a “cover-up”.
Such acts were harshly criticized at the time as abuse of power and, in Mr. Clinton’s case, even examined for evidence of wrongdoing.
However, a president’s pardon under the Constitution is extensive and usually does not require the approval of any other part of the government. Some legal scholars have argued that the corrupt use of the pardon – for example, in response to bribery or to obstruct justice – could be a crime, but has never been tested.
The small number of presidential pardons given to those who had not been convicted was usually tied to a national event that a president wanted to bring behind the country, like the Nixon presidency or the Vietnam War.
Peter Baker Contribution to reporting.