Trump announces a blitz of pardons and commutations

Source: Politico | February 18, 2020 | Caitlin Oprysko

The pardons include former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, former New York police commissioner Bernie Kerik and financier Michael Milken.

President Donald Trump announced a host of pardons and commutations on Tuesday, ranging from Rod Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor jailed on corruption charges, to Bernie Kerik, the former New York police commissioner.

“Yes, we have commuted the sentence of Rod Blagojevich. He served eight years in jail, a long time,” Trump told reporters before boarding Air Force One en route to Los Angeles.

The commutation was one of a flurry of legal actions Trump took Tuesday, including pardons for Kerik, financier Michael Milken and former San Francisco 49ers head coach Edward DeBartolo, Jr. And they came days before the scheduled sentencing of Roger Stone in federal court in D.C., amid widespread speculation about whether the president will pardon his former longtime aide.

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Trump’s clemency moves furthered a pattern in which those seeking pardons have aggressively lobbied the president’s allies and associates, jumping ahead of the formal process by which the White House usually reviews pardon requests. And Tuesday’s announcement by the White House offered a few tantalizing hints as to who might be the next on the president’s list.

Trump has teased a pardon for Blagojevich, meanwhile, for years. But Tuesday’s commutation comes following a media campaign by the ex-governor’s wife that Trump appeared to have seen.

Blagojevich, a Democrat, was impeached and removed from office in 2009 for corruption, and was later indicted on multiple corruption charges. He was accused of trying to solicit personal favors and sell the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by Barack Obama winning the presidency, and was sentenced to 14 years.

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Blagojevich appeared as a contestant on Trump’s reality show in 2010, after his removal from office, and was fired after the future president criticized him for doing inadequate research on Harry Potter-related product four episodes into the season.

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On Tuesday, Trump bashed the prosecutor who put Blagojevich behind bars, former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who joined Comey’s legal team in the wake of his dismissal.

“It was a prosecution by the same people, Comey, Fitzpatrick — the same group,” Trump told reporters, before asserting that he made the decision because he was sympathetic to the pleas of the former governor’s family.

The president lamented that Blagojevich was imprisoned in Colorado, “very far from his children.”

“They are growing older, they’re going to high school now, and they rarely get to see their father outside of an orange uniform, I saw that and I did commute his sentence,” Trump said, indicating that Blagojevich will head home soon. “He’ll be able to go back home with his family after serving eight years in jail that was a tremendously powerful, ridiculous sentence in my opinion — and in the opinion of many others.”

The team of former prosecutors who put Blagojevich behind bars — including Fitzpatrick — criticized Trump’s move even as they acknowledged his right to grant clemency.

“While the president has the power to reduce Mr. Blagojevich’s sentence, the fact remains that the former governor was convicted of very serious crimes,” they said in a joint statement. They noted that Blagojevich’s conviction and sentence had been reviewed and affirmed by independent appellate judges and the Supreme Court. “His prosecution serves as proof that elected officials who betray those they are elected to serve will be held to account.”

Current Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker was more pointed in denouncing the move, declaring in a statement that her constituents had “endured far too much corruption, and we must send a message to politicians that corrupt practices will no longer be tolerated.”

He added: “President Trump has abused his pardon power in inexplicable ways to reward his friends and condone corruption, and I deeply believe this pardon sends the wrong message at the wrong time.”

Trump also confirmed that he granted a full pardon to Kerik, a close associate of former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and frequent Fox News guest who in 2009 pleaded guilty to tax fraud and false statement charges and has since completed a four-year prison sentence.

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One of the people mentioned by the White House as advocating for Kerik’s pardon is Sydney Powell, the attorney for Flynn, who is now fighting to withdraw his guilty plea for lying to investigators.

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