Trump Pardons Ex-Campaign Chief Manafort, Adviser Roger Stone
(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump pardoned his 2016 campaign chairman Paul Manafort, using his executive power in the final weeks as president to free an ally who’d been convicted of financial crimes and illegal lobbying.
Trump also pardoned Roger Stone, a longtime political adviser whose sentence for a conviction of lying to Congress he had previously commuted; and Charles Kushner, the real estate developer and father of the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
The White House announced the pardons on Wednesday night after Trump arrived at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida for the holidays.
The clemency drew sharp criticism from members of both parties. Senator Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican and sometime opponent of the president, released a brief statement with the sentence: “This is rotten to the core.”
Just the night before, the president announced pardons of many other people, including two men convicted as part of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation and two former Republican congressmen convicted of a range of financial crimes.
Manafort, an international political consultant and Republican Party operative, was serving a 7 1/2-year term when he was released in May to home confinement due to the coronavirus pandemic.
He was convicted in August 2018 of lying to tax authorities about tens of millions of dollars he earned as a political consultant in Ukraine and misleading banks about his financial health to get loans.
His conviction also came about as part of Mueller’s inquiry into the 2016 election.
Manafort later pleaded guilty to conspiring to lobby illegally for Ukraine, to laundering money to support a lavish lifestyle and tampering with witnesses.
Trump had previously resisted offering Manafort a pardon, likely in part because doing so posed a political risk. His decision to move forward now appeared at least a tacit acknowledgment that his presidency is nearing an end, despite asserting without evidence that he was robbed of a victory by widespread election fraud.
Shortly after Manafort’s conviction, Trump told reporters he believed Manafort was a “good man” and said he felt “very sad” about the conviction -- even though the crimes did not relate to the president. Trump went on to suggest that Manafort had been unfairly targeted by federal investigators.
“It’s a witch hunt and it’s a disgrace,” Trump said.
Manafort was also indicted in New York for lying on mortgage applications for properties in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
But in October an appeals court there upheld an earlier dismissal of the charges, finding state law didn’t allow for prosecution of the same charges as Manafort faced at the federal level. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. has appealed that decision.
Danny Frost, a spokesman for Vance, said Trump’s pardon “underscores the urgent need to hold Mr. Manafort accountable for his crimes against the people of New York as alleged in our indictment, and we will continue to pursue our appellate remedies.”
The elder Kushner was imprisoned after being convicted of charges that included preparing false tax returns and witness retaliation. He was prosecuted by Chris Christie, then a U.S. attorney in New Jersey, who later became the state’s governor and, eventually, an adviser to Trump.
Moments after the pardon was announced, Stone’s lawyer Grant Smith said his client is “humbled that President Trump used his Constitutional power to allow Mr. & Mrs. Stone to put this behind them and move on with their lives.”
On Tuesday, Trump announced pardons of former campaign aide George Papadopoulos, who was convicted of lying to the FBI, and Alex van der Zwaan, a lawyer who was also convicted of making false statements during the Russia investigation. He also pardoned four men who worked as security guards for Blackwater and had been convicted in relation to the 2007 killing of Iraqi civilians.
The former congressmen pardoned include Duncan Hunter, the California lawmaker who pleaded guilty to misusing campaign funds, and Chris Collins, a representative from New York who pleaded guilty to charges of conspiring to commit securities fraud. The president also commuted the remaining prison sentence of Steve Stockman, a former congressman from Texas who was convicted of misusing charitable funds.
On Wednesday, Trump pardoned yet another former congressman, Mark Siljander, a Republican who represented a district in Michigan until 1987. In 2010, he pleaded guilty to obstructing justice and acting as an unregistered foreign agent.
Earlier this month, Trump pardoned Michael Flynn, his first national security adviser, who pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents, and commuted the sentence of Stone, who was supposed to serve more than three years in prison for witness tampering and lying to Congress.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, criticized the pardons on Twitter.
And Representative Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who led the impeachment investigation of Trump, accused him of corrupting the presidential powers of clemency.
“Trump is doling out pardons, not on the basis of repentance, restitution or the interests of justice,” Schiff said in a statement, “but to reward his friends and political allies, to protect those who lie to cover up him, to shelter those guilty of killing civilians, and to undermine an investigation that uncovered massive wrongdoing.”
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, a legal advocacy group, said “Trump has made it clear that he believes the purpose of the pardon is to bail out rich White men connected to him. Trump has turned an instrument of mercy and justice into just another way for him to be corrupt.”
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