President Trump continued his string of pardons Wednesday night, bringing the two-day total to 41 and wiping felonies from the records of Paul Manafort and Roger Stone, two political advisors who were convicted in the Russia investigation.
Manafort and Stone had resisted cooperating with prosecutors. Manafort, who served as Trump’s campaign chairman four years ago, was convicted of bank fraud and tax evasion, and he also pleaded guilty to illegally lobbying for Ukraine. Although he was sentenced to more than seven years in prison, the veteran Republican operative has been under home confinement because of concerns about COVID-19.
He responded to news of his pardon by thanking and flattering the president on Twitter.
“Mr. President, my family & I humbly thank you for the Presidential Pardon you bestowed on me,” Manafort wrote. “Words cannot fully convey how grateful we are.”
Trump’s pardon of Stone follows his previous decision to commute Stone’s sentence, preventing him from going to prison for his conviction on charges of witness tampering and lying to Congress.
Stone worked on and off for Trump for decades, and he was suspected of being a conduit between the president’s campaign and WikiLeaks, which released Democratic Party emails hacked by Russian military intelligence.
The two pardons, which were among the 26 issued Wednesday night, were not surprising given Trump’s race to reward his criminal allies with his unilateral power of presidential clemency. But that didn’t lessen the outrage among his critics, seeing Trump’s actions as a final reward for advisors who lied and schemed on his behalf.
“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, who served as a top prosecutor for former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III during the Russia investigation.
Jessica Levinson, director of the Loyola Law School’s public service institute, said Trump was wielding pardons as a tool of political payback.
“This is not about logic, or justice or fairness,” she said. “This was about who was the more public booster.”
Even though it’s been more than a year and a half since Mueller filed his final report, Trump’s rage remains white-hot. The White House described Manafort as “one of the most prominent victims of what has been revealed to be perhaps the greatest witch hunt in American history,” and said pardoning Stone would “help to right the injustices he faced at the hands of the Mueller investigation.”
Trump previously pardoned Michael Flynn, his former national security advisor; George Papadopoulos, a former campaign foreign policy advisor; and Alex van der Zwaan, a lawyer connected to some of his aides. All three of them had pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators during the Russia investigation.
One defendant who has not been pardoned is Rick Gates, another campaign advisor who was close with Manafort. Gates pleaded guilty and testified against Manafort during his trial. He also spoke at length with prosecutors, telling them that Manafort told him not to cut a deal with the special counsel’s office because “we’ll be taken care of,” according to a summary of the interview.
The president has also continued to reward people connected to his family. Wednesday’s pardons included clemency for Charles Kushner, father of Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and a top White House advisor.
The elder Kushner served more than a year in prison after pleading guilty to tax fraud, witness retaliation and making false statements to federal election officials. While he was under investigation, he infamously tried to punish his brother-in-law for cooperating with prosecutors by arranging for him to have sex with a prostitute, then sending a video of the encounter to his wife.
The case has been a sore spot within Trump’s inner circle because it was prosecuted by Chris Christie, who was the U.S. attorney in New Jersey at the time. Although the younger Kushner held a grudge, even maneuvering to oust Christie from the presidential transition team four years ago, Christie has defended his work.
“It’s one of the most loathsome, disgusting crimes that I prosecuted when I was U.S. attorney,” he said last year.
Trump issued another batch of pardons earlier this week. Among those pardoned were four former contractors for Blackwater who had been convicted of killing Iraqi civilians, as well as Duncan Hunter, a former California congressman who pleaded guilty to misusing campaign funds.
The president followed that up on Wednesday by pardoning Margaret Hunter, Duncan’s wife, who had pleaded guilty to her role in the same campaign finance scandal. She had faced a sentence of three years of probation.
“Margaret Hunter accepts this unexpected pardon with gratitude and humility,” said a statement from her lawyer, Logan Smith.
Times staff writers Tracy Wilkinson and Del Quentin Wilber contributed from Washington.
Source by www.latimes.com