Trump Pardons Lil Wayne, Steve Bannon, But Not Himself, Or Julian Assange

President Trump granted celemency to dozens of people on Wednesday, keeping alive a tradition of last-minute pardons observed by President Obama. The biggest names on the list included Trump’s former campaign chief and White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, as well as rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black (the former worked with Trump on a plan to financially power black Americans), former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick (one of many American big-city mayors who have ended up in federal prison on corruption charges), and former top GOP fundraiser Elliott Broidy, who pleaded guilty in October to acting as an unregistered foreign agent.

Of course, the two biggest names that weren’t on the list were those of President Trump himself (remember all those MSM anonymously sourced stories claiming Trump was “considering” it?) and Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange.

Considering Assange’s recent major legal victory in the UK – where a judge ruled against extraditing him to the US on the grounds that he might face inhumane punishments that could lead to his suicide – and the intense lobbying for Trump to drop a federal case against the Wikileaks’ founder, the fact that his name wasn’t included seems almost suspicious.

Tucker Carlson, the Fox News host and vocal proponent of freeing Assange, offered something of an explanation: apparently, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has sent word to the White House that if Trump were to pardon Assange, then they would be much more likely to convict the president in a second impeachment trial. Carlson speculated whether backhanded threats like this were even legal, but “we’re not lawyers, we don’t know. It’s certainly wrong. But more than that, it tells you everything about their priorities.”

Some Republicans were infuriated by the inclusion of a former Democratic megadonor Salomon Melgen, who performed unnecessary, sometimes painful, surgeries on elderly patients in the biggest Medicare fraud in history. Melgen most infamously stood trial alongside New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, who skated on the corruption charges and is still in office.

Trump granted pardons to 73 people, and commutations to another 70, according to the White House, which released the full list here.

Here’s a list of a few other notable names curated by Bloomberg:

  • A commutation for Sholam Weiss, who is believed to be serving the longest white-collar sentence in U.S. history, 835 years, for money laundering and other charges stemming from the failure of the National Heritage Life Insurance Co. He fled while on bail and partied with prostitutes at a luxury hotel before the authorities tracked him down in Austria. “He regrets doing that,” Weiss’s nephew, Hershy Marton, said in an interview in December.
  • A pardon for Bannon, who was among a group of four Trump supporters accused last year of using money donated to the supposedly nonprofit “We Build The Wall” campaign for personal gain. Despite portraying the group as a volunteer effort, Bannon received more than $1 million and used some of it to pay personal expenses, prosecutors said. Bannon denied the charges.
  • A pardon for Broidy, a fundraiser for both Trump and the Republican National Committee in 2016. Fugitive businessman Jho Low initially paid $6 million to Broidy and promised $75 million more if he succeeded in persuading the Justice Department to walk away from its civil forfeiture case. The back-channel efforts failed and Low was indicted in 2018 on charges of conspiring to launder billions of dollars embezzled from 1MDB. He has denied wrongdoing.
  • A commutation for Kilpatrick, who was convicted in 2013 on 24 counts of racketeering conspiracy, extortion, bribery and tax evasion and sentenced to 28 years in prison. He was mayor of Detroit from 2002 to 2008; prosecutors alleged his corruption contributed to the city’s bankruptcy five years after he left office.
  • A commutation for Salomon Melgen, a Palm Beach retinologist who was serving a 17-year sentence for Medicare fraud after billing the government to treat people for eye disease they didn’t have. Melgen’s commutation was supported by Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, a Democrat whom prosecutors alleged pressured federal agencies to help Melgen after receiving gifts and campaign contributions. Charges against Menendez were eventually dropped after a New Jersey jury was unable to reach a verdict.
  • A pardon for former Google executive Anthony Levandowski, an autonomous driving engineer who was ordered in August to spend 18 months in prison for stealing trade secrets from Google as he defected to Uber Technologies Inc., in one of the highest-profile criminal cases to hit Silicon Valley.
  • A conditional pardon to Duke Cunningham, a former congressman from California, who in 2005 plead guilty to bribery and other charges arising out of the scandal revolving around the disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Cunningham, a Republican, was released from prison in 2013.
  • A pardon to Todd Boulanger, who had worked with Abramoff and pleaded guilty to conspiring to “commit honest services fraud.” He admitted to providing to public officials “all-expenses-paid travel, tens of thousands of dollars-worth of tickets to professional sporting events, concerts and other events, and frequent and expensive meals and drinks at Washington, D.C.-area restaurants and bars,” according to a 2009 Justice Department press release.
  • A pardon for former Representative Rick Renzi, an Arizona Republican who served three years in prison on corruption, money laundering and other charges. He was convicted in 2013 of using his congressional seat to make companies buy his former business associate’s land so the associate could repay a debt to Renzi. Prosecutors also said he looted a family insurance business to help pay for his 2002 campaign.
  • A pardon for Aviem Sella, an Israeli indicted for espionage in connection with the Jonathan Pollard affair. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu requested Sella’s pardon, the White House said in its statement.
  • A pardon for former InterMune Inc. Chief Executive Officer W. Scott Harkonen, who was convicted in 2009 of issuing a fraudulent press release touting a drug’s success against a fatal lung disease. Harkonen had unsuccessfully argued his case all the way to the Supreme Court, which rejected his appeal in 2013.
  • A pardon to Paul Erickson, a conservative political activist sentenced in July to seven years in prison following his conviction on fraud and money laundering charges. He was the boyfriend of Maria Butina, a Russian woman who sought to curry favor with Republican and gun-rights groups and later pleaded guilty to failing to register as a foreign agent.
  • A pardon for Ken Kurson, a former business associate of Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner. Prosecutors have charged Kurson with cyberstalking related to his 2015 divorce. The White House claimed the criminal investigation “only began because Mr. Kurson was nominated to a role within the Trump administration.”

On Tuesday night, the NY Post reported that Trump would also pardon Death Row Records co-founder Michael “Harry-O” Harris after some heavy behind-the-scenes lobbying by rapper Snoop Dogg.

But Trump is far from the only president who has faced scrutiny over his use of clemency. Obama’s frequent use of commutations, particularly for prisoners convicted of drug-related crimes, prompted criticism from Republicans, who said it benefited “an entire class of offenders” and infringed on the “lawmaking authority” of the legislative branch. And President Bill Clinton drew bipartisan condemnation for pardoning a fugitive commodities trader, Marc Rich, on his last day in office in 2001.

As Stephen Lendmann notes, pardons may only be granted for federal crimes.  They cannot be issued for individuals impeached, tried, and convicted by Congress.

Thomas Jefferson granted pardons to individuals convicted of sedition.

Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon — even though he wasn’t formally charged or convicted of federal crimes. He was unjustly tainted by cooked up Watergate offenses. He was marked for removal from office for threatening entrenched military/industrial/security and other interests.

GHW Bush pardoned convicted felon Elliott Abrams and other Iran-Contra defendants – their high crimes forgiven, not forgotten.

While much fuss has been made in the press about President Trump pardon’s and commutations to date (he has pardoned Scooter Libby, as well as many of his own campaign allies who got swept up in the Mueller probe’s wake – including Roger Stone and Paul Manafort), President Trump has actually issued far fewer pardons and commutations than his predecessor, President Obama.

The final totals are 89 commutations and 116 pardons for Trump, vs 1,715 commutations and 212 pardons for Obama.

Obama still far outranks Trump, and all other presidents in recent decades, for most pardons/commutations.

Infographic: How U.S. Presidents Rank For Clemency | Statista

You will find more infographics at Statista

The only modern president who granted clemency less frequently than Trump is George H.W. Bush, who granted 77 pardons and commutations in his single term.

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