President Donald Trump is using his pardon power to rescue personal and political allies, including a 2016 campaign official ensnared in the Russia probe and former government contractors convicted in a 2007 massacre in Baghdad. (December 23)
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly used his clemency authority as a political tool rather than an act of mercy, issued a final wave of pardons and commutations on his last night in office, delivering relief for a mix of beneficiaries that included former strategist Stephen Bannon, Republican Party and Trump fundraiser Elliott Broidy, and former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.
He granted pardons to 73 people and commuted the sentences of another 70 people, according to a news release from the White House.
The list included several high profile names, including:
- Former Republican House member Rick Renzi of Arizona, convicted in 2013 of extortion, bribery, insurance fraud, money laundering, and racketeering. Renzi left prison in 2017.
- Former Rep. Randall “Duke” Cunningham, R-Calif., who was released from prison in 2013 after serving eight years for charges of bribery, fraud, and tax evasion.
Broidy, who pleaded guilty to acting as an unregistered foreign agent and accepting money from Chinese and Malaysian interests to lobby the Trump administration.
Kwame Kilpatrick, found guilty in 2013 of corruption charges.
Bannon, who is awaiting trial in Manhattan on federal fraud charges tied to a border wall fundraising effort,
Trump intervened in the case of rapper Bill Kapri, also known as Kodak Black. The president commuted a 46-month sentence following his conviction last year for lying on a background check related to a gun purchase.
Trump and Bannon have had an up-and-down relationship since the flamboyant adviser left the White House in 2017. At one point, Trump banished Bannon from his inner circle, claiming that he was a source of a critical book about the president, but Bannon still worked as a prominent backer of Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign.
For weeks, political allies, defense attorneys and others have staged an intense lobbying campaign, urging Trump to act on behalf of their clients.
Trump’s mass-clemency action loomed as President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris hosted the first national vigil for the more than 400,000 Americans who have died during the coronavirus pandemic.
Last-minute pardons, including disputed ones, are something of a tradition for outgoing presidents.
As he left office in 2001, President Bill Clinton pardoned fugitive financier Marc Rich in a move some analysts tied to financial contributions.
In late 1992, his term soon to expire, President George H.W. Bush pardoned aides involved in the Iran-Contra scandal.
Trump has granted clemency to more than 90 people during his term in office, including allies and former aides involved in the investigation of Russian election interference during the 2016 election.
That group includes Paul Manafort, a Trump campaign manager in 2016 who was convicted of defrauding banks; George Papadopoulos, a former campaign aide who admitted lying to the FBI; and Michael Flynn, a retired Army general who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials.
Trump also commuted the sentence of longtime political adviser Roger Stone just days before he was set to report to prison after he was convicted of lying to Congress and obstructing the Russia investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller.
President Trump has granted pardons to 26 people including Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and many other allies.
Among other pardons: Charles Kushner, the father of presidential son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner. The elder Kushner has been convicted of preparing false tax returns and witness retaliation.
Pardons have also been granted to two former Republican members of Congress who were early supporters of Trump’s presidential bid: Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who had pleaded guilty to misusing campaign funds; and Chris Collins, R-N.Y., who had pleaded guilty to charges of conspiring to commit securities fraud.
In many cases, Trump did not work with the pardons office at the Department of Justice, but took action on his own based on requests by lobbyists to him and his top aides.
Legal analysts said Trump turned the presidential pardon power into a personal project designed to reward friends and political supporters.
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