New round of Trump clemency benefits Manafort, other allies
Published Tuesday, December 22, 2020 7:51PM EST Last Updated Thursday, December 24, 2020 1:17PM EST
WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Donald Trump pardoned more than two dozen people, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Charles Kushner, the father of his son-in-law, in the latest wave of clemency to benefit longtime associates and supporters.
The actions, in Trump's waning time at the White House, bring to nearly 50 the number of people whom the president has granted clemency in the last week. The list from the last two days includes not only multiple people convicted in the investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia but also allies from Congress and other felons whose causes were championed by friends.
Pardons are common in the final stretch of a president's tenure, the recipients largely dependent on the individual whims of the nation's chief executive. Trump throughout his administration has shucked aside the conventions of the Obama administration, when pardons were largely reserved for drug offenders not known to the general public, and instead bestowed clemency on high-profile contacts and associates who were key figures in an investigation that directly concerned him.
Even members of the president's own party raised eyebrows, with Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska issuing a brief statement that said: "This is rotten to the core."
The pardons Wednesday of Manafort and Roger Stone, who months earlier had his sentence commuted by Trump, were particularly notable, underscoring the president's desire to chip away at the results and legacy of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. He has now pardoned five people convicted in that investigation, four of them associates like former national security adviser Michael Flynn and campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, both of whom pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
"The pardons from this President are what you would expect to get if you gave the pardon power to a mob boss," tweeted Andrew Weissmann, a Mueller team member who helped prosecute Manafort.
Manafort, who led Trump's campaign during a pivotal period in 2016 before being ousted over his ties to Ukraine, was among the first people charged as part of Mueller's investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. He was later sentenced to more than seven years in prison for financial crimes related to his political consulting work in Ukraine, but was released to home confinement last spring because of coronavirus concerns in the federal prison system.
Though the charges against Manafort did not concern the central thrust of Mueller's mandate -- whether the Trump campaign and Russia colluded to tip the election -- he was nonetheless a pivotal figure in the investigation.
His close relationship to a man U.S. officials have linked to Russian intelligence, and with whom he shared internal campaign polling data, attracted particular scrutiny during the investigation, though Mueller never charged Manafort or any other Trump associate with conspiring with Russia.
Manafort, in a series of tweets, thanked Trump and lavished praise on the outgoing president, declaring that history would show he had accomplished more than any of his predecessors.
Trump did not pardon Manafort's deputy, Rick Gates, who was sentenced last year to 45 days in prison after extensively co-operating with prosecutors, or former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty to campaign finance crimes related to his efforts to buy the silence of women who said they had sexual relationships with Trump. Both were also convicted in the Mueller probe.
New York City prosecutors, meanwhile, have been seeking to have the state's highest court revive state mortgage fraud charges against Manafort after a lower court dismissed them on double jeopardy grounds. A spokesman for District Attorney Cy Vance said the pardon "underscores the urgent need to hold Mr. Manafort accountable for his crimes against the People of New York."
Manafort and Stone are hardly conventional pardon recipients, in part because both were scolded by judges for effectively thumbing their nose at the criminal justice system as their cases were pending. Manafort was accused of witness tampering even after he was indicted and was accused by prosecutors of lying while trying to earn credit for co-operation.
Stone, who was convicted of lying to Congress about his efforts to gain inside information about the release by WikiLeaks of Russia-hacked Democratic emails during the 2016 campaign, was similarly censured by a judge because of his social media posts.
In a statement Wednesday, Stone thanked Trump and alleged that he had been subjected to a "Soviet-style show trial on politically-motivated charges"
Kushner is the father of Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and a wealthy real estate executive who pleaded guilty years ago to tax evasion and making illegal campaign donations. Trump and the elder Kushner knew each other from real estate circles and their children were married in 2009.
Prosecutors allege that after Kushner discovered that his brother-in-law was co-operating with authorities, he hatched a revenge and intimidation scheme. They say he hired a prostitute to lure his brother-in-law, then arranged to have a secret recording of the encounter in a New Jersey motel room sent to his own sister, the man's wife.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has called it "one of the most loathsome, disgusting crimes" he ever prosecuted as U.S. attorney.
Trump's legally troubled allies were not the only recipients of clemency. The list of 29 recipients included people whose pleas for forgiveness have been promoted by people supporting the president throughout his term in office, among them former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.
One recipient was Topeka Sam, whose case was promoted by Alice Johnson, a criminal justice advocate whom Trump pardoned and who appeared in a Super Bowl ad for him and at the Republican National Convention.
"Ms. Sam's life is a story of redemption," the White House said in its release, praising her for helping other women in need.
Others granted clemency included a former county commissioner in Florida who was convicted of taking gifts from people doing business with the county and a community leader in Kentucky who was convicted of federal drug offences.
Associated Press writers Jill Colvin in Palm Beach, Florida, and Michael Balsamo in Washington contributed to this report.