Last week, the president and the attorney general became mired in another scandal after a report emerged stating that William Barr had taken “control of legal matters of personal interest to President Donald Trump,” including his intervention to lessen the sentencing recommendation of Trump surrogate Roger Stone. This week, Trump is avoiding all that hassle over at the Department of Justice with the use of the constitutional power of executive clemency: On Tuesday, Trump pardoned or commuted the sentences of 11 federal offenders convicted of felonies ranging from tax fraud to drug trafficking.
According to CNN correspondent Kaitlan Collins, the president’s pardoning spree was informed by the opinions of “Sheldon Adelson, Maria Bartiromo, Rudy Guiliani, Elaine Chao, Andrew Napolitano, Eddie Gallagher, and [Michael Flynn’s attorney] Sidney Powell. ” Below are some of the more notable offenders, who join previous Trump pardons including Bush administration official Scooter Libby, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and several convicted and accused war criminals.
Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich was sentenced in 2011 to 14 years in prison after attempting to sell the Senate seat of Barack Obama to the highest bidder. “I’ve got this thing, and it’s fucking golden,” the Democratic governor said on a tape recorded by the FBI. “And I’m just not giving it up for fucking nothing.” As The Atlantic’s James Hamblin notes, “Blagojevich was also found guilty of withholding $8 million in state health funding for pediatricians because the CEO of a children’s hospital declined to contribute $25K to his campaign.”
“He served eight years in jail, a long time,” Trump said on Tuesday after commuting Blagojevich’s sentence. “He seems like a very nice person, don’t know him.” The president does, in fact, know him: In 2010, while Blagojevich was awaiting trial, he appeared as a contestant on The Celebrity Apprentice, where he was fired for not knowing enough about Harry Potter.
The inspiration for Gordon Gekko in Wall Street, “junk bond king” Michael Milken was indicted in 1989 on 98 felony counts, including racketeering, insider trading, and securities fraud, following an investigation by U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani. The next year, Milken pleaded guilty to six felony charges of securities fraud and conspiracy. He was forced to pay a fine of $600 million and was sentenced to 10 years in prison but served only 22 months.
On Tuesday, the president pardoned the billionaire, saying he had “suffered greatly” and “paid a big price.”
A close friend of Giuliani and the police commissioner of New York City from 2000 to 2001, Bernard Kerik was sentenced to 48 months in prison in 2010 after pleading guilty to charges including tax fraud and lying to officials. After the invasion of Iraq in 2003, President Bush appointed Kerik to serve as the interior minister of the Coalition Provisional Authority governing Iraq, where he was responsible for rebuilding Iraqi police and intelligence services. Kerik was also nominated to be the second-ever secretary of the Department of Homeland Security but withdrew from consideration after it emerged that he had employed an undocumented immigrant as a nanny. While in Baghdad, he accepted a $250,000 bribe from an Israeli billionaire, for which he was eventually indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of tax fraud and making false statements. Prosecutors allege Kerik also received $236,000 from a New York developer between 2001 and 2003.
After pardoning Kerik, Trump told reporters the former police commissioner “had many recommendations from a lot of good people.” Kerik was also close friends with Larry Ray, who last week was arrested on nine charges, including sex trafficking, extortion, and forced labor; authorities began investigating Ray after a 2019 New York Magazine investigative feature detailed his alleged sex-trafficking ring at Sarah Lawrence College.
Edward DeBartolo Jr.
Trump granted executive clemency to Edward DeBartolo Jr., the former owner of the San Francisco 49ers, who pleaded guilty to failing to report a felony after paying $400,000 to former Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards for a riverboat-gambling license. The billionaire did not serve any time but was fined $1 million and was suspended for a year by the NFL. In 2016, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Though less well-known than the aforementioned pardons, Pogue — a real-estate developer who was granted full clemency after he pleaded guilty to underpaying his taxes by $473,000 — is notable for the substantial donations his family has directed toward Trump. Per the Daily Beast:
According to FEC filings, Pogue’s family has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in direct contributions and in-kind air travel to the Trump Victory Committee. Beginning in August 2019, Ben Pogue—CEO of Pogue Construction and son of Paul Pogue—and his wife Ashleigh made over $200,000 in contributions to the campaign.
In August alone, Ben Pogue donated $85,000 to Trump Victory while Ashleigh Pogue contributed $50,000 that month. The following month, Ben Pogue made an in-kind air travel contribution of $75,404.40. The couple also made several large donations to the Republican National Committee and each donated $5,600 to Donald Trump for President Inc.