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Issue #1905      March 2, 2020

Perversion of justice: Trump pardons more violators of the public trust

WASHINGTON — When it comes to perversions of justice, Donald Trump has done it again.

On 18th February he used the presidential pardon power, which is unlimited, to pardon four more sleazy jailbirds, some of whom have already served their sentences.

Trump’s pardons occurred one day after more than 1,000 former Justice Department (DOJ) prosecutors and top officials, Democrats and Republicans, denounced the president’s interference in the administration of justice.

They also blasted Trump’s Attorney General, William Barr, for kowtowing to Trump’s tweets about who to jail and who to let go.

Trump’s present batch of pardons also comes just before judgement involving Trump’s other recent high-profile interference, demanding Barr cut the sentence of Trump crony Roger Stone. US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson will sentence Stone on 20th February.

Barr cut his prosecutors’ initial recommendation of seven to nine years on a wide range of charges involving Stone’s dealings with Eastern European interests and regimes. Stone’s four prosecutors took their names off all the sentencing recommendations, and one outright quit DOJ in protest.

In his latest batch of pardons, Trump commuted the sentence of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (D) who hawked Barack Obama’s old US Senate seat to “bidders” in return for campaign contributions. In 2012, the governor drew fourteen years.

Trump said one reason he commuted the governor’s sentence was hearing from the governor’s wife. Another was that former FBI Director James Comey, whom Trump later fired and who still is a target of Trump’s vitriolic tweets, directed the investigation.

Trump pardoned ten other people, several of whom have already served their time. The most prominent are former pro football team owner Edward DeBartolo Jr, convicted junk bond king Michael Milken and an associate of Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. DeBartolo pleaded guilty in 1998 to failing to report a felony in a bribery case.

The associate, Bernard Kerik, was Giuliani’s New York City police commissioner. He had served three years for tax fraud and lying to officials. Since getting out, CNN reported, Kerik has been adviser to other people facing federal charges, including one of the Navy SEALs, convicted of war crimes, whom Trump pardoned earlier this year.

Trump’s pardons fit a past pattern of the mercurial president: Pardon your pals and punish your enemies, even more than Richard Nixon threatened to do. The Blagojevich pardon, Trump told reporters, was partially because Comey pushed the investigation of the governor.

Trump’s pardons also override the normal process for seeking and getting a presidential pardon, going through a special office in the Justice Department that evaluates pardon applications.

“I really rely on recommendations of people that know them,” Trump said of the latest batch he let go. That could be said of the others, too.

Milken was the biggest crook in the latest crowd of Trump pardons. The former junk-bond king pleaded guilty more than twenty years ago to manipulation of thrift institutions, insider trading, bribery of fund managers and cheating his own company, Drexel Burnham Lambert.

His sentence on six counts: Up to thirty years, a $600 million fine and a public admission, in open court, of wrongdoing, according to Den Of Thieves, investigative reporter James Stewart’s book about Wall Street’s multitude of scandals.

Blagojevich, a product of the old Chicago machine, went to jail in 2012 – but not before signing a raft of pro-worker laws, including several during an AFL-CIO Executive Council meeting in Chicago’s Drake Hotel.

But after the Chicago Sun-Times uncovered the governor’s crimes, his own legislature’s majority Democrats impeached and convicted him a decade ago. The State Senate vote was unanimous. Blagojevich went to jail in 2012. Trump commuted his 14-year sentence to time served.

DeBartolo was involved with another political crook: Former Governor Edwin Edwards, D-La. DeBartolo was fined $1 million, but with no jail time, for failing to report Edwards’ attempted solicitation of a bribe from DeBartolo to get a gambling license in Louisiana.

To be fair, Trump is not the first president, or even the first Republican president, to abuse his pardon power to let high-profile convicts and/or political pals walk.

Trump issued eighteen other pardons before the 18th February batch. Two were to anti-government ranchers in the infamous months-long standoff in Oregon several years ago. And Blagojevich wasn’t even the first Chicagoan Trump pardoned.

Last 25th May, he pardoned former Sun-Times owner and publisher Conrad Black, who had served forty-two months in jail, starting in 2011, for mail fraud and obstruction of justice. Black basically looted the paper before taking it into bankruptcy.

Trump’s first presidential pardon, in 2017, went to former Maricopa County (Phoenix) Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whom Trump pardoned even before the sheriff could be tried on federal contempt of court charges. Arpaio, sheriff for twenty-four years, lost in 2016.

For Trump, Arpaio’s jailing of brown-skinned people with Hispanic names into tents behind barbed wire in the Arizona heat and holding them until he could throw them out of the country was just fine. Never mind that Arpaio defied a court order to stop.

And Trump also previously pardoned hard-right commentator Dinesh D’Souza, who broke campaign finance laws. Right-wing talking heads agitated for D’Souza to walk.

A third Trump pardon, in 2018, went to Lewis “Scooter” Libby, former Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff. In retaliation for her husband’s revelation of the Bush administration’s lie about Iraq’s nuclear development, Cheney outed the name of a former CIA agent, Valerie Plame. Libby served thirty months and was fined $250,000.

Democratic President Bill Clinton drew enormous criticism when, on his last day in office, 20 January, 2001 he pardoned French financier Marc Rich, convicted on fifty-one counts of tax evasion. The flak flew because Rich’s wife had given $1 million to the Clinton Library in Little Rock. Former Democratic President Jimmy Carter called the Marc Rich pardon “disgraceful.”

In August 1999, Clinton also pardoned sixteen members of FALN, the Puerto Rican paramilitary liberation group. The people, who drew sentences ranging from 35 years to 105 years. had set off 120 bombs in the United States, mostly in New York City and Chicago. There were convictions for conspiracy to commit robbery, bomb-making, and sedition, as well as firearms and explosives violations

And the same day Clinton pardoned Rich, he pardoned two former members of the Weather Underground – one sentenced to forty years and the other to fifty-eight – former Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill, convicted of using congressional office account money for personal use, and Patty Hearst for her activities while captive of the Symbionese Liberation Army.

In 1992, Republican George H W Bush pardoned former GOP Defence Secretary Caspar Weinberger before Weinberger faced trial on five felony charges – including obstruction of justice – from the Reagan administration’s Iran-Contra affair.

And then there was, of course, the ultimate pardon, of Nixon. By Gerald Ford.

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