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Trump Goes on Clemency Spree           02/19 06:07

   President Donald Trump went on a clemency blitz Tuesday, commuting former 
Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's 14-year prison sentence and pardoning former 
New York City police commissioner Bernie Kerik, among a long list of others.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Donald Trump went on a clemency blitz Tuesday, 
commuting former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's 14-year prison sentence and 
pardoning former New York City police commissioner Bernie Kerik, among a long 
list of others.

   Those who got a break from Trump include financier Michael Milken, the "junk 
bond king" who served two years in prison in the early 1990s after pleading 
guilty to violating U.S. securities laws, and Edward DeBartolo Jr., the former 
San Francisco 49ers owner convicted in a gambling fraud scandal after building 
one of the most successful NFL teams in history. But Trump also commuted the 
sentences of several women with more sympathetic cases to balance out the men 
convicted of corruption.

   In all, Trump took clemency actions related to 11 people, his latest 
interventions in the justice system as he faces growing criticism for weighing 
in on the cases of former aides. Trump made clear that he saw similarities 
between efforts to investigate his own conduct and those that took down 
Blagojevich, a Democrat who appeared on Trump's reality TV show, "Celebrity 
Apprentice."

   "It was a prosecution by the same people --- Comey, Fitzpatrick, the same 
group," Trump told reporters. He was referring to Patrick Fitzgerald, the 
former U.S. attorney who prosecuted Blagojevich and now represents former FBI 
Director James Comey, whom Trump fired from the agency in May 2017. Comey was 
working in the private sector during the Blagojevich investigation and 
indictment.

   The clemency actions come as an emboldened Trump continues to test the 
limits of his office now that impeachment is over. The actions drew alarm from 
Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. of New Jersey, who accused Trump of using 
his unfettered pardon power "to shield unrepentant felons, racists and corrupt 
scoundrels."

   Blagojevich was convicted on charges of political corruption, including 
seeking to sell an appointment to former President Barack Obama's old Senate 
seat and trying to shake down a children's hospital.

   But Trump said the former governor had been subjected to a "ridiculous 
sentence" that didn't fit his crimes.

   "That was a tremendously powerful, ridiculous sentence, in my opinion and in 
the opinion of many others," he said.

   Trump confirmed the pardons on an air base tarmac as he left Washington for 
a West Coast visit. He said he had yet to think about pardoning his longtime 
confidant Roger Stone, who is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday, or granting 
clemency to several former aides who have ended up in legal jeopardy, including 
his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and disgraced former national 
security adviser Mike Flynn.

   But he made clear anew that he is sympathetic to their cases. "Somebody has 
to stick up for the people," Trump said. As for Stone, in particular, he added: 
"You're going to see what happens. I think he's treated unfairly."

   Former Manhattan Assistant U.S. Attorney Mimi Rocah said the pardons sends a 
message that corruption is OK and "signal to his friends who are facing 
investigations or prosecutions for white collar crimes ... that Trump has their 
back."

   Indeed, Pascrell predicted that, following Trump's acquittal by the 
Republican-controlled Senate, "outrageous abuses like these will accelerate and 
worsen."

   In Illinois, current Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, said in a statement 
that 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." Republicans in the state echoed his criticism 
of the Blagojevich action.

   Many of the pardons announced Tuesday were advocated by well-heeled friends 
of the president, including Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino magnate, 
Tom Barrack, a longtime Trump confidant and the chairman of his inaugural 
committee, and Fox News personality Maria Bartiromo. 

   Milken's advocates, for example, included all of the above --- along with 
Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal attorney. It was Giuliani who charged 
Milken with 98 felony counts, including racketeering, insider trading and 
securities fraud, when he served as the top federal prosecutor in New York City 
in 1989.

   "He paid a big price, paid a very tough price," Trump said of Milken, who 
was among a small group of GOP mega donors who spent Election Night 2018 at the 
White House, according to media reports.

   Blagojevich's case had been championed by his wife, Patti, who went on a 
media blitz in 2018. Appearing on Trump favorite Fox News, she encouraged him 
to step in, likening the investigation of her husband to special prosecutor 
Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

   And relatives of Paul Pogue, the owner of a construction company found 
guilty of underpaying his taxes, whom Trump also pardoned, have donated large 
sums to Trump's reelection campaign.

   But Trump also commuted the sentences of several women more representative 
of the flood of requests that presidents typically receive.

   Judith Negron, 48, had been serving 35 years at a Florida prison for health 
care fraud, conspiracy and money laundering when she was released Tuesday.

   "It's hard to put in words. I'm so excited. I yelled, screamed and cried. We 
are just filled with happiness and gratitude," said Yamilla Cruz Estrada, 
Negron's sister, thanking Trump for answering the family's prayers.

   "I'm indebted to him for the rest of my life because he gave me my family 
back," Judith's husband, Hector Negron, told The Associated Press.

   Her case, like several others, had been championed by criminal justice 
reform advocates like Alice Marie Johnson, whose life sentence Trump commuted 
in 2018 at the urging of reality TV star Kim Kardashian West and whose story 
Trump's reelection campaign featured in a recent Super Bowl ad.

   Johnson told the AP that the president had been looking specifically for 
female candidates, and asked her for a list of other women who deserved 
clemency during a criminal justice conference at historically black Benedict 
College.

   "Kim made a difference going to the White House fighting for me, so if I can 
fight for something I definitely wasn't going to turn that opportunity down," 
Johnson said.

   Holly Harris, president of the criminal justice group Justice Action 
Network, applauded Trump "for taking these steps," but said she hoped to see 
him use his power to help "any of the thousands of deserving individuals who 
are neither rich, nor famous, nor connected" and "every bit as deserving of a 
second chance."

   Ohio Pastor Darrell Scott, who had advocated for DeBartolo Jr.'s pardon and 
announced Trump's decision Tuesday surrounded by a handful of football greats, 
said that when he first brought the case to the White House, the administration 
was consumed with other matters, including the Mueller investigation. Now that 
impeachment is over, he said, Trump has time to focus on other matters.

   "We finally get to breathe for the first time before something else comes," 
he said. "I think they're trying to play catch up."


(KR)

 
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