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Trump's controversial pardons: Who the president forgave as he branded himself 'chief law enforcement officer'

Pardons come days before sentencing of Roger Stone

Clark Mindock
New York
Wednesday 19 February 2020 01:42 GMT
Trump explains why he commuted Blagojevich sentence

Donald Trump has issued a slew of pardons and commutations for controversial figures ranging from a former state governor convicted of corruption to a close associate of Rudy Giuliani who pleaded guilty to tax fraud and false statement charges.

The move came as a close associate to Mr Trump, Roger Stone, awaits his own sentencing in a federal trial on Thursday— raising questions as to whether the president might offer up relief to a longtime ally who has been convicted of lying to Congress and witness tampering in a case connected to Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

"I'm actually, I guess, the chief law enforcement officer of the country," Mr Trump said on Tuesday amid allegations that he was interfering in the Stone case, something he has denied. "I could be involved if I want to."

However, his decision to either pardon or commute the sentences of 11 people was met with immediate criticism.

The team that prosecuted Rod Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois, said: "While the president has the power to reduce Mr Blagojevich’s sentence, the fact remains that the former governor was convicted of very serious crimes.

“His prosecution serves as proof that elected officials who betray those they are elected to serve will be held to account."

Here’s what you need to know about those who were granted relief by the president.

Rod Blagojevich (Reuters)

Rod Blagojevich
The Democratic former governor of Illinois, 63, entered federal prison in 2012 and was serving a 14-year sentence after being convicted of using his powers to extract campaign money and other political favours in return for naming a successor to take over Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat when he was elected president in 2008.

Mr Trump has toyed with the idea of helping Blagojevich out previously, but had backed down amid criticism that he would be undoing hard work by federal prosecutors.

But Blagojevich had lobbied hard to get relief, drawing comparisons between his case and that of the president, who has faced intense scrutiny during his presidency first for his campaign’s alleged cooperation with Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and then his apparent abuse of office in dealings with Ukraine.

Mr Trump, for his part, had expressed sympathy for the former governor’s circumstances, and had said the man who once appeared on his reality TV programme The Apprentice had been treated “very, very unfairly.”

Mr Trump referenced Blagojevich’s wife specifically — Patricia Blagojevich is a regular on Fox News — while discussing his commutation decision with reporters on Tuesday.

“He seems like a very nice person,” he told reporters. “I watched his wife on television.”

Former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo, left (Reuters)

Eddie DeBartolo Jr
DeBartolo Jr, who was pardoned, is the former owner of the San Francisco 49ers NFL team, which won five Super Bowl titles during his time as owner. He is 73.

He pleaded guilty in 1998 to failing to report a felony bribery case, which led to the imprisonment of former Louisiana governor Edwin W Edwards. DeBartolo Jr did not serve any jail time, but he did agree to pay $1 million in fines and relinquished his ownership of the team to his sister, Denise York.

“I think with Eddie and what he has accomplished, what he has done on the football field, off the football field a lot of charity work so we talked about that,” former 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice, who lobbied for his release alongside several others, told reporters outside the White House on Tuesday. “We talked about just being great. You know, trying to be the greatest of all time. And you know, I take my hat off for Donald Trump and what he did.”

Bernie Kerik (AP)

Bernie Kerik
Kerik, a former New York City Police commissioner, received clemency from Mr Trump on tax fraud charges from 2010.

Kerik, 64, was the NYPD’s top cop during the administration of mayor Giuliani from 2000 until 2001. Mr Giuliani is now the president’s personal lawyer. In 2002 President George W Bush appointed Kerik interim minister of the interior in Iraq.

He pleaded guilty in 2009 to eight felonies including tax fraud and lying to the White House while he was being vetted and considered for the role of Homeland Security secretary in 2004.

Kerik served more than three years in federal prison for his charges, and had appeared on Fox News on Monday night, hours before Mr Trump's announcement.

Michael Milken (AP)

Michael Milken
Milken, a former financier, was granted clemency for his insider trading convictions in 1990, when he pleaded guilty to securities, tax and other reporting violations.

The 73-year-old — once known as the junk bond king — is well known for having used high-yield bonds to finance corporate takeovers in the 1980s.

Milken was sentenced to 10 years in prison, and fined $600 million. He was also barred permanently from the securities industry by the Securities and Exchange Commission. His sentence was reduced to two years, and he served both in the 1990s.

Since then, Milken has survived a cancer diagnosis and proceeded to establish a non-profit think tank called the Milken Institute. He has also donated generously to charities that fund cancer research.

Tynice Nichole Hall
Hall, 36, was jailed for 18 years on drugs charges, although the trial heard that her boyfriend was the main target of the investigation and had been using her home to store crack cocaine and firearms. She has served 14 years and has had her sentence commuted.

Crystal Munoz
Also jailed for drug-related crimes, after being convicted of conspiring to distribute marijuana, she has mentored other inmates during her 12 years in prison she has mentored other inmates. Sentence commuted.

Judith Negron
The 48-year-old has served eight years of a 35-year sentence for her part in a $200 million Medicare fraud, during which time she has been described as a model prisoner. Sentence commuted.

Ariel Friedler
Friedler, an entrepreneur, was jailed for two months for conspiracy to access a protected computer without authorisation. Since his release he has spent time promoting veterans issues and helping ex-prisoners. Among those lobbying for his pardon was Chris Christie, former New Jersey governor and a longtime ally of Mr Trump. Pardoned.

Paul Pogue
Pogue was given three years' probation and ordered to pay more than $700,000 in fines and restitution for filing false income tax statements. He was also commended for his charity work, which includes building churches and clinics in developing countries. Pardoned.

David Safavian
He served as an official in the George W Bush administration but was jailed for nearly a year for covering up his connections to the disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Angela Stanton
Stanton served six months of home confinement for taking part in a stolen vehicle scam. She has since become an author and television personality and has spoken of her support for Mr Trump. Pardoned.

The 11 pardons or grants of clemency add to what has, so far, been a relatively small list of granted petitions. According to Justice Department statistics, Mr Trump has pardoned 18 people and given clemency to just six.

That’s compared to 212 pardons from Barack Obama throughout his presidency, and 1,715 commutations.

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