President Trump on Wednesday announced a full pardon for former national security adviser Michael Flynn, a close ally and supporter, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in its investigation of the 2016 election.
Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general, served as Trump’s first national security adviser for just 24 days before he was ousted in February 2017 over his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak before the inauguration. He pleaded guilty in late 2017 for lying to federal agents about those contacts. Flynn sought to withdraw his guilty plea earlier this year, alleging prosecutorial misconduct, and his case was still pending. (Flynn has been free the whole time and was never sentenced.)
The U.S. Constitution gives presidents broad power to pardon people charged with or convicted of federal crimes, even after they have completed their sentences — clearing the person’s name and restoring privileges such as the right to vote. They can also cover conduct that has not been the subject of prosecution — like the pardon President Gerald Ford issued to his predecessor, Richard Nixon. And a president does not have to give a reason for issuing one.
Flynn’s pardon had been predicted ever since his arrest. Trump is believed to be weighing pardons for other prominent individuals, mostly although not exclusively his supporters and allies.
Here are some thought to be on his list:
Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, was convicted in August 2018 on eight counts of tax-and-bank-fraud-related charges brought by special counsel Robert Mueller in his investigation of the 2016 election. He was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison. Manafort initially struck a plea deal to cooperate with investigators, but Mueller charged that he failed to live up to it, instead committing additional “crimes and lies.” Trump praised Manafort as a “stand-up guy” who refused to break under pressure, contrasting him with his own former lawyer, Michael Cohen, who he described as a “rat.” Manafort, 71, was released to home confinement in May amid the health threat posed by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. His sentence is due to be completed in 2024.
Papadopoulos, who was a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign in 2016, also pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians and became a cooperating witness in Mueller’s probe. Papadopoulos told federal investigators that before the 2016 election, Trump personally encouraged him to pursue a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. After his guilty plea, Trump dismissed Papadopoulos a “low-level volunteer” in his campaign, and called him a “proven” liar. Papadopoulos was sentenced to 14 days in prison and served 12. After his release, he accused investigators of “entrapment.”
Stone, Trump’s longtime friend and political adviser, who according to testimony served as the Trump campaign’s link to WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign, was sentenced to 40 months earlier this year for lying to Congress, obstruction and witness tampering in Mueller’s Russia probe. Hours before Stone was due to report to federal prison, Trump commuted his sentence, which allowed him to go free but did not void his conviction. During his trial, Stone had boasted about his loyalty to Trump, leading to widespread speculation that Trump was rewarding him for his silence. A full pardon would take that scenario a step further.
Assange is the founder of WikiLeaks, a site that was celebrated by Trump for its leaks of documents from the Democratic Party before the 2016 election. Assange was charged with conspiracy in trying to access a classified U.S. government computer with former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010. He sought asylum inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he lived for more than seven years. He was evicted in 2019 and is being held in a British jail; the U.S. is seeking his extradition. In September, former "Baywatch" actress Pamela Anderson appeared on Fox Business to call on Trump to pardon Assange. "To see him be crucified like this is difficult for me because I know him as such a mild-mannered, sweet man," Anderson told host Maria Bartiromo. "And he's doing the best he can."
Snowden, a former U.S. National Security Agency defense contractor turned whistleblower, has been living in asylum in Russia since fleeing the United States in 2013 after being identified as the person who leaked classified information on the NSA's massive domestic surveillance program. He was charged with espionage related to the leak. Snowden has said he is willing to return to the U.S. if he were guaranteed he could receive a fair trial. Trump, who once called Snowden a "spy" and "traitor," said in August that he was considering a pardon for him.
“Many people think that he should somehow be treated differently and other people think he did very bad things,” Trump said. “I’m going to take a very good look at it.”
Jones, a Black death row inmate in Oklahoma, was the subject of a recent ABC documentary, “The Last Defense,” which argued he was wrongly convicted in the 1999 shooting death of a white businessman during an alleged carjacking. Jones and his family say he was at home at the time of the shooting but weren’t able to testify at his trial. Kim Kardashian West recently visited Jones in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary after the documentary sparked her interest in the case. The reality television star was instrumental in successfully lobbying Trump to commute the sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, who was convicted for a nonviolent drug trafficking offense and released in 2018 after 21 years in prison. In August 2020, Trump granted Johnson a full pardon.
Strawberry, the former New York Mets and New York Yankees slugger, was convicted of numerous drug-related charges after his retirement from baseball, and served numerous stints in jail in the early 2000s. He later appeared on NBC's "Celebrity Apprentice," in 2010, and became a vocal supporter of Trump, an invited attendee at the president’s nomination acceptance speech on the South Lawn of the White House.
Just had a great meeting with @realdonaldtrump @potus besides what he’s done so far with criminal reform, the platinum plan is going to give the community real ownership. He listened to what we had to say today and assured he will and can get it done. 🤙🏾 pic.twitter.com/Q9c5k1yMWf
— Lil Wayne WEEZY F (@LilTunechi) October 29, 2020
The rapper, whose real name is Dwayne Michael Carter Jr., was charged in Florida earlier this month with with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, a federal offense that carries a potential sentence of up to 10 years in prison. He acknowledged owning the gold-plated handgun, which was found during a search of his luggage upon arriving in Miami on a private plane. (In 2009, he pleaded guilty to weapons charges and served a one-year sentence on New York's Rikers Island.) In October, Lil Wayne met with Trump to discuss criminal justice reform and posed for a photo with the president which he posted to Twitter while praising his plan.
British socialite Maxwell was charged with child sex trafficking in July in connection with her relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, the late financier and convicted sex offender. She was accused of recruiting and grooming girls as young as 14 for Epstein and his high-powered friends. At a coronavirus briefing at the White House the same day, Trump, who had a long-standing friendship with Epstein that ended some years ago, was asked for his response to Maxwell’s conviction. “I’ve met her numerous times over the years, especially since I lived in Palm Beach, and I guess they lived in Palm Beach,” Trump said.
“I haven’t really been following it too much,” Trump said of the case, adding: “I just wish her well, frankly.”
The comments, which came on the heels of the president’s grant of clemency to Roger Stone, triggered speculation that he might use his pardon power for Maxwell too.
Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer who has emerged as the face of the president’s attempts to overturn the election, is reportedly being investigated by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York over his dealings with Russian-born businessmen Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. Giuliani met with the men in Ukraine as part of his effort to dig up dirt on Joe Biden and his family. Parnas and Fruman were indicted last year on campaign finance charges; Giuliani has denied any wrongdoing.
Kushner, a New Jersey real estate developer and the father of Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, was convicted for tax evasion, illegal campaign contributions and witness tampering in the early 2000s. The case was brought by then-U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, who campaigned for Trump in 2016. The witness-tampering charge stemmed from an act of retaliation against his sister's ex-husband, who had been cooperating with a federal investigation into Kushner concerning campaign finance law violations. Kushner hired a prostitute to seduce his brother-in-law, which he videotaped and sent to his sister. He agreed to a plea deal and was sentenced to two years in federal prison. He served 14 months.
There has been idle speculation that Trump might seek to issue pardons to his three eldest children, Ivanka Trump, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., to head off investigations into the family’s businesses and the Trump Organization. They have not been charged with any crimes, and it’s unclear what allegations are being investigated. But as far as is known, the investigations are being conducted by local officials — New York State Attorney General Letitia James and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. — and a presidential pardon, which only covers federal crimes, wouldn’t help them in any case.
Throughout his presidency, Trump has stoked speculation that he might try to pardon himself before leaving office. In June 2018, at the height of the Mueller investigation, Trump asserted on Twitter that he has the “absolute right” to pardon himself if he were charged with a crime. (Mueller said he had found evidence that the president had attempted to obstruct his investigation, which would be a crime, but declined to seek an indictment, leaving it up to Attorney General William Barr, who pronounced himself convinced of Trump’s innocence.)
Legal scholars, though, are split on the issue. A 1974 Justice Department memo, written four days before President Richard Nixon’s resignation, explicitly states that the president “cannot pardon himself.” But the opinion has never been tested in court. (After succeeding him as president, Gerald Ford gave Nixon a “full, free, and absolute pardon” for any crimes he may have committed.)
On Tuesday, as Trump departed a turkey pardoning ceremony in the Rose Garden, a reporter shouted a question asking the president if he would be issuing a pardon to himself.
Trump did not answer.
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