Trump Pardons D'Souza, Weighs Doing Same for Martha Stewart

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump issued a full pardon to conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza, and said he’s considering pardoning Martha Stewart and commuting the sentence of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.

Trump said aboard Air Force One on Thursday that D’Souza, who pleaded guilty in 2014 to making illegal political contributions to a U.S. Senate campaign, had been unfairly treated and should have faced a “quick minor fine.”

He also said Stewart, the businesswoman famous for her lifestyle brand, had been harshly treated. In 2004, she was sentenced to five-months in prison and five months under house arrest for lying to federal investigators about a stock sale.

“There’s another one I’m thinking about very seriously,” Trump said, referring to Blagojevich. The former governor is serving a 14-year prison sentence on corruption charges including soliciting campaign contributions and other payments in return for the promise of official favors.

The president defended Blagojevich asking what he would get in exchange for a Senate seat as “being stupid and saying things that many other politicians say.”

While Trump’s pardon of D’Souza, like his pardon last year of Phoenix-area sheriff Joe Arpaio, is sure to ignite his base, the reasons for helping Blagojevich and Stewart are less clear. The two are both Democrats.

A pardon of Stewart could be viewed as another escalation in the war of words between Trump and James Comey, whom he fired as head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. That’s because Comey brought the criminal charges against Stewart when he was U.S. attorney in New York before becoming deputy attorney general, the second-highest position at the Justice Department, in 2003.

In public remarks in 2005, Comey cited Stewart’s conviction as an important message to corporate executives about the importance of telling the truth to federal investigators. Prosecutors "rely on the fact that, when we have an informal interview with somebody, they’ll tell us the truth," Comey said. "So that’s an honor system, but it’s an honor system that has to be enforced with an iron fist."

‘Was Wrong’

D’Souza, of San Diego, originally claimed that he was singled out for prosecution because of his views opposing former President Barack Obama. “Obama & his stooges tried to extinguish my American dream & destroy my faith in America. Thank you @realDonaldTrump for fully restoring both,” D’Souza said in a Twitter posting Thursday.

D’Souza, who admitted that he had close associates contribute $10,000 to New York Republican Wendy Long’s campaign for the Senate, was more contrite before he was sentenced. Federal law limits campaign contributions to $5,000 per individual in an election cycle. D’Souza was sentenced in Manhattan federal court in 2014 to five years of probation.

“I knew that causing a campaign contribution to be made in the name of another was wrong and something the law forbids,” D’Souza said at the May 2014 hearing. “I deeply regret my conduct.”

A 1983 graduate of Dartmouth College, D’Souza served as a policy analyst for the late President Ronald Reagan and as a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He was president of The King’s College in New York City from 2010 to 2012, according to his website. In recent years, he has written books and produced films critical of Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas praised the pardon.

“Bravo! @realDonaldTrump Dinesh was the subject of a political prosecution, brazenly targeted by the Obama administration bc of his political views,” Cruz said Thursday in a tweet. “And he’s a powerful voice for freedom, systematically dismantling the lies of the Left—which is why they hate him. This is Justice.”

Preet Bharara, the former U.S. Attorney in Manhattan who brought the case, defended the prosecution. “The President has the right to pardon but the facts are these: D’Souza intentionally broke the law, voluntarily pled guilty, apologized for his conduct & the judge found no unfairness,” Bharara said in a tweet following Trump’s pardon announcement. “The career prosecutors and agents did their job. Period.”

White House spokesman Raj Shah said that D’Souza had made restitution and accepted responsibility for his actions.

“These are infractions and crimes that are rarely prosecuted and many believe the subject of some selective prosecution from the previous administration,” Shah said in an interview on Fox. “The president thinks it’s appropriate he receive a pardon after community service, paying a fine and doing other things that the judge has required.”

Arpaio Pardon

The reprieve of Arpaio, who was convicted of federal misdemeanor criminal contempt after a judge found he had defied a court order to stop targeting Latinos with sweeps of suspected undocumented immigrants, renewed criticism of the president’s handling of racially charged issues.

While supporters argued Arpaio’s tactics were a successful deterrent to criminal behavior, detractors said the practices were racist and pointed to multiple instances of mistreatment that led to the death or injury of prisoners. Arpaio also drew attention for his support of Trump’s effort to falsely accuse Obama of not being born in the U.S.

Arpaio is now running in the Republican primary for a U.S. Senate seat in Arizona. That vote will be held Aug. 28.

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