It’s seldom that I quote an entire newspaper article, but the Christmas Season is upon us and I could hardly resist the accompaniment of a beloved Christmas carol…bear with its insertions…they are entirely my own doing.
(Guardian UK, Dec 24, 2020) Donald Trump's latest wave of pardons includes Paul Manafort and Charles Kushner. President also gives clemency to Roger Stone in second round of pardons since Tuesday
Donald Trump has pardoned another 26 people in his second big wave of clemency actions since Tuesday, marking yet another audacious application of presidential power to reward loyalists. The US president pardoned his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, his longtime adviser Roger Stone, and Charles Kushner, the father of his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner. Stone, a longtime friend and associate, had his sentence for a series of charges related to the Russia investigation commuted by the president in July.
In total, Trump pardoned or issued commutations to 29 people on Wednesday, including Margaret Hunter, the wife of Duncan Hunter, the former Republican representative of California, who was pardoned yesterday. Trump’s latest set of pre-Christmas pardons follows a brazen round of pardons and commutations granted on Tuesday. The president issued 15 pardons and five commutations to allies, including two figures who plead guilty in special counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry on Russian interference in the 2016 US elections.
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On Tuesday, the president pardoned George Papadopoulos, a former adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to federal officials during the Russia investigation, and Alex van der Zwaan, a Dutch lawyer and son-in-law of the Russian billionaire German Khan. Van der Zwaan had pleaded guilty to similar charges.
Papadopoulos and Van der Zwaan were the third and fourth people pardoned for charges in connection to the Russia inquiry. In November, Trump pardoned his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about contacts with a Russian official. The president, who has long derided the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election as a “hoax”, has been expected to dole out pardons to those implicated in the inquiry.
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Tuesday’s rash of pardons was also bestowed upon four former Blackwater contractors who were convicted on charges related to a 2007 massacre in Iraq. The four men, part of a security convoy, fired indiscriminately at civilians, killing 14 people – including a nine-year-old child. The move drew harsh criticism, including from the families of those who were killed. Adil al-Khazali, whose father Ali was killed in the attack, said in response: “Justice doesn’t exist.”
Under the US constitution, the president has broad, unilateral pardon powers, but pardons are traditionally reviewed by the justice department. Many of Trump’s pardons, however, seem to clash with department standards – and are instead bestowed as a means to reward allies or act on grudges. Only five of 65 pardons and commutations Trump issued before Wednesday were recommended by the justice department pardon attorney, according to a tally by the Harvard law professor Jack Goldsmith.
Manafort, 71, was sentenced for convictions including unregistered lobbying, tax fraud, bank fraud and money laundering. Stone, 68, was convicted of lying to Congress and obstructing a congressional investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election. “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 on Wednesday night.In another audacious exercise of presidential power, Trump pardoned 26 people on Wednesday, many of them loyalists. Wednesday’s 26 pardons followed 15 pardons and five commutations on Tuesday
A presidential pardon does not shield someone from state charges, and the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr, is still looking to prosecute Manafort for state crimes. Trump’s pardon “underscores the urgent need to hold Mr Manafort accountable for his crimes against the People of New York as alleged in our indictment, and we will continue to pursue our appellate remedies”, Danny Frost, a spokesman for Vance, told CNBC. A judge had previously blocked Vance from advancing his case, to protect Manafort from being prosecuted twice for the same crimes.
A Trump lawyer reportedly offered pardons to Manafort and Flynn as they were approached by federal investigators – raising suspicions that the pardons were proffered in exchange for loyalty to Trump. The New York Times first reported the news in 2018. In his report following the investigation, Mueller wrote: “Many of the president’s acts directed at witnesses, including discouragement of cooperation with the government and suggestions of possible future pardons, occurred in public view.”
Adam Schiff, the Democratic representative of California who prosecuted the impeachment trial of Trump, said: “During the Mueller investigation, Trump’s lawyer floated a pardon to Manafort. Manafort withdrew his cooperation with prosecutors, lied, was convicted, and then Trump praised him for not ‘ratting’. Trump’s pardon now completes the corrupt scheme.”
“Lawless until the bitter end,” Schiff tweeted.
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The congressman also noted that many serving time in federal prisons had been convicted of non-violent crimes and deserved a reprieve. “But who does Trump pardon? Those who lie, cheat or steal for him and his family,” Schiff said.
Charles Kushner, 66, pleaded guilty to tax evasion and lying to the Federal Election Commission. He also pleaded guilty to witness tampering, after he retaliated against his brother-in-law William Schulder, who was cooperating with federal investigators. Kushner was accused of hiring a sex worker to seduce Schulder, videotaping the encounter and sending the tape to Schulder’s wife – Kushner’s sister.
The executive director of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, said: “In pardoning Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Charles Kushner, President Trump has made it clear that he believes the purpose of the pardon is to bail out rich white men connected to him. Trump has turned an instrument of mercy and justice into just another way for him to be corrupt.”
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Ben Sasse, a Republican senator of Nebraska, issued a more succinct statement in reaction to the pardons: “This is rotten to the core.”
It is unclear whether the president will issue more pardons, which the White House has discussed handing out “like Christmas gifts”, Axios has reported. The White House, which daily shares the president’s public schedule with media, said that on Christmas Eve Trump will be in Florida and “as the Holiday season approaches, President Trump will continue to work tirelessly for the American People. His schedule includes many meetings and calls.”