Trump assembles White House team to help issue pardons and commutations

‘I rely on recommendations, very importantly,’ says US president 

Peter Stubley
Thursday 20 February 2020 16:37 GMT
Trump explains why he commuted Blagojevich sentence

Donald Trump has set up his own task force to recommend and vet candidates for presidential pardons, according to reports.

The team of advisers is said to include his son-in-law Jared Kushner and a lawyer who worked on his impeachment defence case.

Under the new arrangements reported by the Washington Post, Mr Trump would gain more control over the process as he prepares to issue more pardons ahead of the US election in November.

Recommendations will go through the White House’s Office of American Innovation, directed by Mr Kushner, rather than the Department of Justice and the Office of the Pardon Attorney.

It comes after Mr Trump granted clemency to 11 people including former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, who appeared with him on the Celebrity Apprentice TV show.

Many of the seven pardons and four commutations were recommended by the president’s wealthy friends and political allies.

Three of them were women who served in prison with Alice Johnson, the former drug dealer whose sentence Mr Trump commuted two years ago following pleas by celebrity businesswoman Kim Kardashian.

Ms Johnson is one of those officially named as supporters and advocates for the grants of clemency. The others include Mr Trump’s associates Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie, Fox News founder Rupert Murdoch and former acting US Attorney General Matthew Whitaker.

”I rely on recommendations, very importantly,” Mr Trump said as he announced his decisions on Tuesday.

The White House said the pardons had been issued ”in light of the decisions these individuals have made following their convictions to work to improve their communities and our nation”, while those granted commutation of their sentence had “paid their debts to society and have worked to improve their lives and the lives of others while incarcerated”.

White House spokesman Hogan Gidley denied that the president had any political motives in choosing who gets clemency.

“The president is clearly against excessive sentencing, whether it’s Rod Blagojevich or Alice Johnson,” Mr Gidley said. “He does this because he wants to right wrongs.”

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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