President Donald Trump issued a provocative new batch of pardons on Wednesday, granting clemency to his former campaign manager Paul Manafort, longtime adviser Roger Stone and Charles Kushner, father of Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner.
Manafort and Stone’s pardons effectively nullify the most significant convictions won by special attorney Robert Mueller and his team.
Stone was convicted in November 2019 for lying to the House Intelligence Committee about his efforts to make contact with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and for threatening a witness linked to the investigation. Trump commuted Stone’s sentence earlier this year, just before he was sentenced to prison.
Manafort was convicted of a series of financial crimes stemming from his lobbying work abroad and was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison. However, after serving about two years behind bars, he was transferred from prison to house arrest in May due to the coronavirus pandemic. Despite Trump’s forgiveness, Manafort may not be entirely clean.
Manhattan’s district attorney, Cy Vance Jr., is processing charges of criminal fraud against Manafort in the state court, but the case was dismissed by a trial and appeal court due to a strict New York double penalty law. A spokesman for Vance said on Wednesday that Manafort’s pardon by Trump reinforces the need for him to face justice in New York.
“This action underscores the urgent need to hold Mr. Manafort responsible for his crimes against the People of New York, as alleged in our indictment, and we will continue to seek our appeals,” said Vance spokesman Danny Frost, in a statement.
Manafort’s pardon, in particular, is unlikely to be welcomed by some lawmakers on either side of the corridor. The Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee issued a hard-hitting report on Manafort’s activities during the 2016 presidential election, including his close ties and collaboration with an associate, Konstantin Kilimnik, which the panel assessed as a Russian agent.
Mueller had previously assessed Trump’s openings in Manafort as potential evidence of obstruction of justice, noting in his report that pending pardons may have been a crime. “During Manafort’s indictment and when the jury of his criminal trial was deliberating, the president praised Manafort in public, said that Manafort was being treated unfairly and refused to rule out forgiveness,” noted Mueller’s report. “After Manafort was convicted, the president called Manafort” a brave man “for refusing to ‘break’ and said that ‘turning’ should almost be banned.”
Manafort quickly accessed Twitter on Wednesday night to praise Trump for his decision.
“Sir. President, my family and I humbly thank you for the presidential pardon you have granted me. Words cannot fully convey how grateful we are,” wrote Manafort, his first tweet in four years.
Stone thanked him for his forgiveness and complained that he was subjected to a “spectacular Soviet-style trial on charges of political motivation”.
The longtime political provocateur has also asked the president to extend leniency to a key figure in releasing hacked emails during the 2016 campaign, Julian Assange, and to the National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.
“Other good Americans have fallen victim to a corrupt system designed to serve venom power hunters, rewarding deception and manipulation, rather than reason and justice. President Trump can be the ombudsman on the vile machinations of wicked suitors for the mantle of public service, ”wrote Stone.
Absent from Trump’s second wave of prenatal pardons were other figures linked to the Russian investigation, such as Manafort’s longtime deputy Rick Gates, who has become a key witness of cooperation with Mueller’s team, but has since sought please Trump’s allies. The list also does not include former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who fell out of favor after giving an exciting interview about the Trump family for a book.
Also absent from the last round: former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who vehemently turned against Trump and pleaded guilty to charges of tax evasion and obstruction of Congress, cooperated with prosecutors in several investigations,
Cohen complained bitterly on Twitter about being left out.
“What happened this evening shows how the entire support of criminal justice [sic] it is, ”wrote Cohen. “Although my family and I are threatened by @POTUS @realDonaldTrump, I still cooperated with a dozen federal / state agencies, Mueller, Congress … and all these criminals receive #pardons. This is wrong!”
Trump’s second batch of politically charged pardons in two days also includes other figures with strong political connections. After pardoning three former Republican congressmen on Tuesday, the president extended another pardon to the former rep. Mark Siljander (R-Mich), who was convicted of obstruction of justice and lack of registration as a foreign agent.
Trump also forgave Rand Paul, ally Jesse Benton, who was indicted in 2015 while driving Paul’s super PAC. Benton was accused of bribing an Iowa state senator in 2011 to support Paul’s father, Ron Paul, who was seeking the presidential nomination at the time. Young Paul attacked the moment of the Justice Department’s accusation, which occurred just before the Republican Party presidential debates, at a time when Paul was considered a candidate for the nomination.
While the list of pardons issued on Tuesday included former deputy Duncan Hunter, the new list includes Hunter’s wife, Margaret, who pleaded guilty in the same case involving embezzling campaign funds for personal use. Margaret Hunter filed for divorce last month.
A former senior government official said that no one should be surprised by the people Trump has forgiven, many of whom are in the president’s orbit.
“Trump has always been a loyal guy,” said the former aide, who asked not to be named. “I don’t think he cared or cared about criticism for the past four years.”
Anita Kumar and Evan Semones contributed to this report.