President Trump granted clemency to a new group of legalists on Wednesday, eliminating convictions and sentences while aggressively employing his power to nullify courts, juries and prosecutors to apply his own standard of justice to his allies.
One of the recipients of the pardon was a relative, Charles Kushner, father of his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Two others who were pardoned refused to cooperate with prosecutors in connection with the special council’s investigation in Russia: Paul Manafort, their 2016 campaign president, and Roger J. Stone Jr., his longtime friend and informal adviser.
They were the most prominent names in a batch of 26 pardons and three commutes released by the White House after Trump left for his private club in Palm Beach, Florida, for the holiday.
Also on the list released on Wednesday was Margaret Hunter, the wife of former deputy Duncan D. Hunter, a California Republican. Both pleaded guilty to charges of misusing campaign funds for personal expenses.
Hunter was pardoned by Trump on Tuesday as part of a first wave of clemency concessions before Christmas for 20 convicts, more than half of whom did not meet the Department of Justice guidelines for pardons or commutations. They included a former Blackwater guard sentenced to life in prison for his role in the killing of 17 Iraqi civilians in 2007.
Of the 65 pardons and commutations that Trump granted before Wednesday, 60 went to petitioners who had a personal tie to Trump or who helped with his political goals, according to a tabulation by Harvard Law School professor Jack Goldsmith. Although similar numbers do not exist for previous presidents, legal experts say that these presidents have granted a much lower percentage to those who could help them personally and politically.
The forgiveness of Mr. Manafort and Mr. Stone on the same day will be particularly painful for former special adviser Robert S. Mueller III and his team.
Neither cooperated fully with prosecutors, despite pleading guilty, making investigators believe that Mr. Trump’s private discussion of pardons and public statements may have compromised his ability to discover the facts.
The pardons for Mr. Manafort and Mr. Stone reflected Mr. Trump’s complaints about Mueller’s investigation, referring to “Russian collusion hoax”, “prosecutor’s misconduct” and “injustice”.
Manafort, 71, was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for his role in a decade-old multi-million dollar financial fraud scheme for his work in the former Soviet Union.
Mr. Stone, 68, whose 40-month prison sentence had previously been commuted by Mr. Trump, maintained his innocence and insisted that the prosecutor’s office was undermined. He was convicted on seven counts of lying to Congress, tampering with witnesses and obstructing the House inquiry into the possible coordination of the Trump campaign with Russia.
Kushner’s pardon was one of the most anticipated of the Trump presidency. Father-in-law of the president’s eldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, Kushner’s imprisonment was a milestone in his family’s life.
Mr. Kushner, 66, pleaded guilty in 2004 to 16 counts of tax evasion, a single charge of retaliation against a federal witness and one of lying to the Federal Election Commission. He served two years in prison before being released in 2006.
The witness against whom he was accused of retaliation was his brother-in-law, whose wife, Kushner’s sister, was cooperating with federal officials in a Kushner campaign finance investigation. Mr. Kushner was accused of filming his brother-in-law with the prostitute and then sending it to his sister.
The case was prosecuted by then U.S. Attorney General Chris Christie, a longtime friend of Trump who became governor of New Jersey. Christie recently criticized Trump’s efforts to claim widespread fraud in the results of the 2020 elections without providing evidence.
Jared Kushner worked on criminal justice reform efforts at the White House, partly because he was scared, allies said, of the time his father spent behind bars. And he had a strained relationship with Mr. Christie for years, helping to banish him from his role in managing the transition almost immediately after Mr. Trump’s surprise election victory in 2016.
In forgiving Manafort and Stone, Trump continued to tear apart the work of Mueller’s investigation, which the president and his outgoing attorney general, William P. Barr, attacked in the past two years. Mr. Trump had already pardoned or commuted the sentences of three others who were prosecuted by Mr. Mueller’s office, including two on Tuesday.
The president has long complained that the investigation was a “witch hunt” and a “farce” and pressured Barr to prosecute some of the officers he blamed for it, including Joseph R. Biden Jr., former President Barack Obama and James B Comey, the FBI director that Mr. Trump fired.
Barr, whose last day in office was on Wednesday, echoed Trump’s criticisms of the investigation and ordered an inquiry into its origins, but much to the president’s frustration he did not sue anyone for it before last month’s election.
Mr. Barr also took steps to reduce Stone’s sentence recommendation and to overturn the pleas of guilt made by Michael T. Flynn, the president’s first national security adviser.
But Barr supported Stone’s accusation, while Trump amended Stone’s sentence in July and pardoned Flynn last month.
The president has long publicly defended the prospect of forgiveness for associates caught up in investigations in a way that critics argued was an attempt to convince them to remain silent about any wrongdoing they may have witnessed for Trump.
President Trump discussed possible pardons that could test the limits of his constitutional power to nullify criminal liability. Here is a little clarity about your ability to forgive.
- Can a president grant prospective pardons before any charges or convictions? Yes. In Ex parte Garland, an 1866 case involving a former Confederate senator who had been pardoned by President Andrew Johnson, the Supreme Court said that the pardoning power “extends to all crimes known to the law and can be exercised at any time after his commission, either before legal proceedings are initiated or pending, or after sentencing and trial. ”It is unusual for a president to issue a prospective pardon before any charges are made, but there are examples, perhaps the most famous for the forgiveness of President Gerald R. Ford in 1974 by Richard M. Nixon for preventing him from being prosecuted after the Watergate scandal.
- Can a president forgive his relatives and close allies? Yes. The Constitution does not prohibit pardons that raise the appearance of self-interest or conflict of interest, even though they may provoke political reaction and public shame. In 2000, shortly before leaving office, President Bill Clinton issued a series of controversial pardons, including to his stepbrother, Roger Clinton, for a cocaine conviction in 1985, for which he had served about a year in prison. , and to Susan H. McDougal, a former Clinton business partner who was arrested as part of the Whitewater investigation.
- Can a president issue a general pardon? This is not clear. Typically, pardons are written in a way that specifically describes what crimes or sets of activities they apply to. There are few precedents establishing the degree to which a pardon can be used to exclude criminal liability for anything and everything instead.
- Can a president forgive himself? This is not clear. There is no definitive answer because no president has ever tried to forgive himself and then faced prosecution anyway. As a result, there was never a case that gave the Supreme Court a chance to resolve the issue. In the absence of any precedent for control, legal thinkers are divided on the issue.
- Find more answers here.
Even when he agreed to cooperate with the special attorney’s office, Manafort’s chief attorney, Kevin M. Downing, continued to inform Trump’s personal lawyers, an unusual arrangement that raised questions about which side Manafort was on.
Some of Downing’s public statements also seemed destined to generate sympathy for Manafort from the west wing. Downing said repeatedly that prosecutors in the case had no evidence that the Trump campaign had conspired with Russia to influence the 2016 elections, although potential links to Moscow sabotage were beyond the scope of the trial.
Mr. Trump has repeatedly expressed sympathy for Mr. Manafort, describing him as a brave man who had been mistreated by the special attorney’s office. After Manafort was sentenced in March 2019 to three and a half years in the case of conspiracy, the president said: “I feel really bad for Paul Manafort”.
Mr. Manafort was released from prison in early May as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and was instead confined to his home.
Other presidents made extensive use of the power of clemency in their last days in office, sometimes benefiting political allies or people close to them.
President Bill Clinton, on his last day in office in 2001, forgave or commuted the sentences of more than 175 people, including his half brother Roger Clinton, who had been convicted of drugs, and his former business partner Whitewater Susan H McDougal, who had been arrested for refusing to cooperate with Ken Starr’s team investigating the president.
But Clinton was particularly criticized for forgiving Marc Rich, a financier who fled the United States to avoid tax collection and whose ex-wife donated large sums to the future Clinton presidential library.
Among those particularly enraged by Mr. Rich’s forgiveness was Rudolph W. Giuliani, who had been the United States attorney whose office sued Mr. Rich and is now the president’s personal lawyer. “He never paid a price,” said Giuliani in 2001 of Rich.
After losing re-election in 1992, President George Bush pardoned former Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger and five other targets of prosecutors in the Iran-against scandal. Bush was convinced that a new charge against Weinberger, which challenged the president’s account of his own actions, issued days before the election, helped seal his defeat. Independent lawyer Lawrence E. Walsh accused Bush of a “cover-up”.
These actions were heavily criticized at the time as abuses of power and, in the case of Clinton, even investigated for evidence of wrongdoing.
But a president’s pardoning authority under the Constitution is extensive and is not normally subject to approval by any other part of the government. Some jurists have argued that the corrupt use of pardoning power – in response to a bribe, for example, or to obstruct justice – could be a crime, but it has never been tested.
The small number of pardons that presidents granted to those who had not been convicted used to be linked to a national event that a president tried to leave behind in the country, such as the Nixon presidency or the Vietnam War.
Peter Baker contributed reports.