President Trump handed out kindness to a new group of loyalists on Wednesday and obliterated convictions and convictions as he aggressively used his power to override courts, juries and prosecutors to apply his own standard of justice to his allies.
One recipient of a pardon was a family member, 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 Russia investigation: Paul Manafort, his 2016 campaign chairman, and Roger J. Stone Jr., his longtime informal adviser and friend.
They were the most prominent names in a party of 26 pardons and three conversions unveiled by the White House after Trump traveled to his private club in Palm Beach, Florida, for the holidays.
Also on the list released Wednesday was Margaret Hunter, the foreign wife of former Representative Duncan D. Hunter, a Republican from California. Both had pleaded guilty to charges of misuse of campaign funds for personal expenses.
Sir. Hunter was pardoned by Mr Trump on Tuesday as part of a first wave of joy for 20 prisoners before more than Christmas, more than half of whom did not comply with Justice Department guidelines for considering pardon or commuting. They included a former Blackwater guard sentenced to life in prison for his role in the 2007 killing of 17 Iraqi civilians.
Of the 65 pardons and commutations Mr. Trump had granted before Wednesday, 60 have gone to petitioners who had a personal bond with Mr. Trump or who helped his political cause, according to a table from Harvard Law School professor Jack Goldsmith . Although similar figures do not exist for former presidents, legal experts say these presidents gave a much lower percentage to those who could help them personally and politically.
The pardons for Mr. Manafort and Mr. Stone the same day will especially sting for former Special Adviser Robert S. Mueller III and his team.
None of the men ever fully cooperated with prosecutors despite pleading guilty, leading investigators to believe that private discussion of pardon and public statements by Mr.
The names for Mr. Manafort and Mr. Stone reflected Mr. Trump’s complaints about the Mueller investigation, referring to the “Russian colossus scam”, “prosecution abuse” and “injustice.”
Mr. Manafort, 71, had been sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for his role in a 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, has maintained his innocence and insisted that there was prosecution. He was convicted on seven counts of lying to Congress, testifying about the manipulation and obstruction of the House investigation into possible Trump campaign coordination with Russia.
Sir. Kushner’s pardon has been one of the most anticipated of the Trump presidency. Father-in-law of the president’s older daughter, Ivanka Trump, Mr. Kushner’s imprisonment was a hurtful event in his family’s life.
Sir. Kushner, 66, pleaded guilty in 2004 to 16 counts of tax evasion, a single count for retaliating against a federal witness and one for lying to the federal election commission. He served two years in prison before being released in 2006.
The witness he was accused of retaliating was his brother-in-law, whose wife, Mr. Kushner’s sister, collaborated with federal officials in a campaign financial investigation by Mr. Kushner. Sir. Kushner was accused of videotaping his brother-in-law with the prostitute and then sending it to his sister.
The case was prosecuted by then-U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, a longtime Trump friend who went on to become governor of New Jersey. Sir. Christie has recently been critical of Trump’s efforts to allege widespread fraud in the 2020 election result without providing evidence.
Jared Kushner worked in part on reviewing criminal justice in the White House because he was scarred, Allies said, by his father’s time behind bars. And he had a strained relationship with Mr Christie for years, helping to banish him from his role in driving the transition almost immediately after Mr Trump’s surprise election victory in 2016.
With the forgiveness of Mr. Manafort and Mr. Stone, Mr. Trump continued to work on the Mueller investigation that the president and his outgoing attorney general, William P. Barr, have been attacking for the past two years. Sir. Trump had already pardoned or converted the domain of three others who had been prosecuted by Müller’s office, including two on Tuesday.
The president has long complained that the investigation was a “witch hunt” and a “scam” and pressured Mr. Barr to prosecute some of the officials he accused of it, including Joseph R. Biden Jr., former President Barack Obama, and James B Comey, the FBI director fired by Mr. Trump.
Sir. Barr, whose last office day was Wednesday, has reiterated Mr Trump’s criticism of the investigation and ordered an inquiry into its origins, but to the president’s frustration, he did not prosecute anyone for it before last month’s election.
Sir. Barr had also moved to reduce the sentencing recommendation for Mr. Stone and to dismiss guilty pleadings from Michael T. Flynn, the president’s first national security adviser.
But Mr Barr supported the prosecution of Mr Stone, while Mr Trump overturned Mr Stone’s ruling in July and pardoned Mr Flynn last month.
The president has long publicly dangled the prospect of pardon for employees caught in the investigation in a way that critics claimed was tantamount to an attempt to convince them to keep quiet about any misconduct they may have witnessed by Mr.
President Trump has discussed potential pardons that could test the limits of his constitutional power to lift criminal liability. Here is clarity on his ability to pardon.
- Can a president issue potential pardons before any accusation or conviction? Yes. In Ex parte Garland, a 1866 case involving a former Confederate senator who had been pardoned by President Andrew Johnson, the Supreme Court said that the power of forgiveness “extends to any offense known by law and may be exercised at any time after its commission, either before trials or during their independence or after conviction and judgment. “It is unusual for a president to issue a potential pardon before charges are brought, but there are examples, perhaps most famously, President Gerald R. Ford’s pardon of 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 exclude pardons that raise the appearance of self-interest or a conflict of interest, even though they may provoke a political setback and public shame. In 2000, shortly before leaving office, President Bill Clinton issued a series of controversial pardons, including to his half-brother, Roger Clinton, over a 1985 cocaine conviction for which he had served a year in prison, and to Susan H. McDougal, a once Clinton business partner who was imprisoned as part of the Whitewater investigation.
- Can a president issue a general pardon? This is unclear. Usually, pardons are written in a way that specifically describes what crimes or sets of activities they apply to. There is little precedent as to the extent to which a pardon can be used to exclude criminal liability for anything and everything instead.
- Can a president forgive himself? This is unclear. There is no definitive answer because no president has ever tried to forgive himself and then face prosecution anyway. As a result, there has never been a case that gave the Supreme Court a chance to resolve the issue. In the absence of any controlling precedent, legal thinkers are divided on the matter.
- Find more answers here.
Even when he agreed to work with the specialist consultant’s office, Mr. Manafort’s attorney general, Kevin M. Downing, briefing Trump’s personal lawyers, an unusual event that raised questions about which side Mr. Manafort was on.
Some of Mr. Downing’s public statements also seemed to aim to create sympathy for Mr. Manafort from the West Wing. Sir. Downing repeatedly said prosecutors in the case had no evidence that the Trump campaign had conspired with Russia to influence the 2016 election, even though potential links to Moscow’s sabotage fell outside the trial.
Sir. Trump repeatedly expressed sympathy for Mr Manafort, describing him as a brave man who had been abused by the Special Council Office. After Mr. Manafort in March 2019 was sentenced to three and a half years in the conspiracy case, the president said: “I feel very bad for Paul Manafort.”
Mr. Manafort was released early from prison in May as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and was instead sent home.
Other presidents have made extensive use of clemency power in their last days in office, sometimes in favor of political allies or people close to them.
On his last day in office in 2001, President Bill Clinton pardoned or remanded convictions for more than 175 people, including his half-brother Roger Clinton, who had been convicted of drug charges, and his former Whitewater business partner Susan H. McDougal, who had been locked up. for refusing to cooperate with Ken Starr’s team investigating the president.
But Mr Clinton came under particularly intense criticism for his pardon of Marc Rich, a financier who had fled the United States to avoid taxes and whose ex-wife donated large sums to Mr Clinton’s future presidential library.
Among those who were particularly furious at the forgiveness of Mr. Rich, was Rudolph W. Giuliani, who had been the American lawyer whose office prosecuted Mr. Rich and now the president’s personal lawyer. “He never paid a price,” Giuliani said in 2001 about Mr. Rich.
After losing the re-election in 1992, President George Bush pardoned former Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger and five others targeted by prosecutors in the Iran-counter-scandal. Bush was convinced that a new indictment against Mr Weinberger, challenging the president’s account of his own actions, broadcast days before the election, helped seal his defeat. Independent Attorney Lawrence E. Walsh accused Mr. Bush for a “cover-up”.
Such acts were at that time sharply criticized as abuses of power and in Mr. Clinton’s case even investigated for evidence of misconduct.
But a president’s forgiving authority under the Constitution is expansive and is usually not subject to approval by any other part of the government. Some legal scholars have argued that corrupt use of the power of pardon – in response to bribery, for example, or to impede justice – could be a crime, but it has never been tested.
The small number of pardoned presidents given to those who had not been convicted was usually tied to a national event that a president tried to put behind the country, such as the Nixon presidency or the Vietnam War.
Peter Baker contributed reporting.