President Trump on Wednesday announced a second batch of new pre-Christmas pardons and commutations — including forgiving the crimes of longtime ally Roger Stone, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Charles Kushner, the father of White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner.
Stone was convicted in November 2019 by a Washington jury of lying under oath to the House Intelligence Committee about his efforts to make contact with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and for threatening a witness connected to the probe. Trump commuted Stone’s sentence over the summer, just a day before he was scheduled to start his prison sentence.
The longtime political operative thanked Trump for the pardon, appearing on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson shortly after the news broke, praising Trump’s decision and calling the charges a “Soviet-style show trial on politically-motivated charges.”
“I have an enormous debt of gratitude to God almighty for giving the president the strength and courage to recognize that my prosecution was a completely politically motivated witch hunt and that my trial was a Soviet-style show trial in which the judge denied us any powerful line of defense,” Stone said.
Manafort, who was the former Trump 2016 campaign manager was the first major figure in the president’s circle to be charged in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. He was convicted in 2018 of lying to authorities about the millions of dollars he earned as a political consultant in Ukraine and misleading bank lenders on his financial health in order to qualify and received the loans.
According to the White House statement, Manafort’s prison time included “a stretch of time in solitary confinement—treatment worse than what many of the most violent criminals receive.”
Manafort quickly praised Trump in a trio of tweets before recapping the president’s success in the last four years.
“Mr. President, my family & I humbly thank you for the Presidential Pardon you bestowed on me. Words cannot fully convey how grateful we are,” Manafort tweeted Wednesday evening, his first tweet in nearly four years.
Mr. President, my family & I humbly thank you for the Presidential Pardon you bestowed on me. Words cannot fully convey how grateful we are.
— Paul Manafort (@PaulManafort) December 24, 2020
However, Manafort’s business dealings are currently under legal scrutiny from the Manhattan District Attorney, which has been trying to prosecute Manafort in New York for mortgage fraud and other alleged state crimes. The office is still pursuing an appeal for this case, which was dismissed on double jeopardy grounds and if successful would not be protected by Trump’s pardon.
The pardons of both Stone and Manafort invalidate the convictions that came about as part of Mueller’s inquiry into the 2016 election. The list includes five people including Manafort and Stone who were convicted in Mueller’s probe into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia — former national security adviser Michael Flynn who Trump pardon before Thanksgiving last month, campaign adviser George Papadopoulos; and attorney Alex van der Zwaan, whom Trump pardon just a day before.
Mueller’s top prosecutor, Andrew Weissmann in an interview on MSNBC after the president’s announcement complained mercilessly about Trump’s recent series of pardons but asserted that they would be used in a possible future prosecution of the president in his obstruction of justice by enticing both Manafort and Stone pardons during the special counsel probe.
“This is what you get if you give the pardon power to a mob boss,” Weissman said on MSNBC. “The president faces criminal exposure for obstruction of the Mueller investigation, and what we’re seeing in the last few days is basically a confession. Everything that he is doing now can be just additional evidence of that obstruction. He may get hoisted on his own petard.”
Kushner’s father, Charles was one time a prominent New York real estate developer until pleaded guilty in 2004 to 18 counts of tax evasion, witness tampering, and making illegal campaign donations. Former Gov. Chris Christie, who was the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey brought charges, and the one to prosecute Charles Kushner described the crimes as “one of the most loathsome, disgusting crimes that I prosecuted when I was U.S. Attorney” during a January 2019 interview with PBS.
Trump granted Charles Kushner a full pardon, citing his devotion to “important philanthropic organizations and causes.”
“Since completing his sentence in 2006, Mr. Kushner has been devoted to important philanthropic organizations and causes, such as Saint Barnabas Medical Center and United Cerebral Palsy. This record of reform and charity overshadows Mr. Kushner’s conviction and a 2-year sentence for preparing false tax returns, witness retaliation, and making false statements to the FEC [Federal Election Commission],” the White House said.
Trump issued full pardons to 23 other individuals and commuted the sentence of three others. Included in the second pardon list was former California GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter’s wife, Margaret, who just a day ago the president granted Duncan Hunter a full pardon. Margaret Hunter pleaded guilty last year to conspiring “knowingly and willingly” to convert campaign funds for personal use.
On Tuesday, Trump began using his pardon powers in issuing 15 pardons and 5 commutations that included Papadopoulos, four Blackwater guards involved in the Iraq massacre, former GOP Reps. Chris Collins of New York and Steve Stockman of Texas. Stockman was convicted by a jury in Texas of almost two dozen felonies, including fraud and money laundering.
The White House cited Stockman’s age, who is 64, and his “underlying pre-existing health conditions that place his health at greater risk during the COVID epidemic.” Stockman had served two years of his 10-year sentence of his “a white-collar crime spree.”
Many of the non-violent drug offenders were recommended for clemency by Alice Johnson, the former federal inmate whose sentence Trump commuted at the urging of Kim Kardashian West.
The clemency drew sharp criticism from members of both parties. Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) released a brief statement with the sentence: “This is rotten to the core.”
Past presidents have taken advantage of granting presidential pardons to friends and those recommended by their staunch allies during their final weeks in office. President Obama in his final days in office granted 64 pardons and 209 grants of commutation, the most of any commutation issued by any president.
The two most controversial commutation from Obama’s 209 grants came from commuting the sentence of Oscar Lopez Rivera who was convicted for his role as head of the Chicago based radical Marxist nationalist group — Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN) that claimed the responsibility for over 130 bombings in New York and other cities between the 1970s and 1980s. The second controversial commutation from Obama was commuting the 35-year prison sentence of Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning was convicted of taking troves of secret diplomatic and military documents and disclosing them to WikiLeaks.
President Bill Clinton on his last day in office issued “a shocking abuse of presidential power” pardon to Marc Rich, a wealthy hedge-fund manager who contributed heavily to the Clinton causes and campaigns. Rich and his partner were indicted on 65 federal charges that would have led to a sentencing of 300 plus years for tax evasion, wire fraud, racketeering, and trading with Iran during the hostage crisis at the same time an oil embargo was imposed, fled the country to Switzerland and never returned