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18 Feb, 2020 19:02

But will he pardon Roger Stone? Trump clemency for Blagojevich, Kerik, Milken & DeBartolo fuel speculation

But will he pardon Roger Stone? Trump clemency for Blagojevich, Kerik, Milken & DeBartolo fuel speculation

US President Donald Trump has surprised everyone with a series of pardons that – so far – do not include any of his aides caught up in ‘Russiagate’ investigations, although his tweets suggest this too might be coming.

First on the list was former San Francisco 49s NFL franchise owner Edward DeBartolo Jr, who pleaded guilty in 1998 to failing to report a felony, after he did not disclose that the governor of Louisiana extorted him for a bribe in exchange for a riverboat casino license. He was fined $1 million and sentenced to two years’ probation. His NFL career effectively over, he transferred the team ownership to his sister.

Trump also pardoned former New York police commissioner Bernie Kerik and “junk bond king” Michael Milken. Kerik was sentenced to four years in federal prison in 2010, on charges of tax fraud and making false statements. Milken served two years in federal prison for securities fraud and reporting violations over insider trading in the 1980s. Though banned from securities trading, he has since poured his wealth into cancer research.

Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich did not get a pardon, but a commutation of his 14-year sentence to time served. Blagojevich, a Democrat, was impeached and removed from office in 2009, and imprisoned for allegedly trying to sell Barack Obama’s Senate seat.  The commutation has raised some eyebrows among Trump supporters.

Trump offered a clue when he said Blagojevich’s “ridiculous sentence” was a result of prosecution by “the same group” behind the ‘Russiagate’ investigations that targeted him and his aides for the first three years of his presidency.

This further fueled speculation that Trump could be setting off a pardon storm that would extend to some of the president’s backers caught up in the web of special counsel Robert Mueller – who looked real hard but found zero evidence of Trump’s alleged “Russian collusion.” 

Roger Stone, a long-time political operative, was convicted by a Washington, DC jury for lying to Congress and obstructing the Mueller probe. Last week, it emerged that the foreperson of Stone’s jury was a prominent Democrat activist and an attorney herself, both of which should have disqualified her. Stone’s request for a retrial was rejected by Judge Amy Berman Jackson, however, and his sentencing is scheduled for Thursday. The four prosecutors who demanded a sentence of nine years in prison have since quit the case or the Justice Department altogether.

In a tweet on Tuesday morning, Trump tweeted out an opinion of Fox News analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano critical of the Stone trial, in what a MSNBC legal analyst interpreted as preparation for a Stone pardon. 

Another case drawing the attention of Trump supporters is that of his first national security adviser, General Michael Flynn. The former Defense Intelligence Agency chief was entrapped into perjury by FBI agent Peter Strzok within the first days of the Trump presidency, forced to resign, and eventually pressured into pleading guilty when Mueller threatened to prosecute his son.

For the past several months, Flynn has sought to change his plea and get the case thrown out on grounds of gross prosecutorial misconduct. With the DOJ ordered to quarantine any and all information gained through the improperly issued FISA warrants to spy on the Trump campaign, Trump himself has hinted that he regards all Mueller prosecutions as invalid.

“Everything having to do with this fraudulent investigation is badly tainted and, in my opinion, should be thrown out,” the president tweeted on Tuesday morning.

On the other hand, it is possible that the DeBartolo pardon is nothing more than a ploy to get more votes in Ohio – where the former NFL magnate is from – as Washington Post national reporter Philip Bump has argued. 

Trump issued a total of seven pardons and four commutations on Tuesday, according to the White House. In addition to DeBartolo, Milken and Kerik, he pardoned lobbyist David Safavian, construction executive Paul Pogue, and ‘Real Housewives’ personality Angela Stanton.

Other commutations included Tynice Nichole Hall (who served 14 out of 18 years of her drug sentence), Crystal Munoz (served 12 years for marijuana smuggling), and Judith Negron (served eight out of 35 years for healthcare fraud). They have “have paid their debts to society and have worked to improve their lives and the lives of others while incarcerated,” the White House said.

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