FILE - In this Feb. 27, 2008, file photo, Elliott Broidy poses for a photo at an event in New York. (AP Photo/David Karp, File)

Trump’s pardon largesse a boon for well-connected fraudsters

Trump’s pardon largesse a boon for well-connected fraudsters

WASHINGTON — A former congressman who pocketed millions of dollars in bribes from defence contractors. A Republican fundraiser who was paid handsome sums to illicitly lobby a presidential administration. An influential voice in conservative circles accused of duping donors who supported a border wall.

Donald Trump’s final batch of more than 140 pardons and sentence commutations, issued in his last hours as president, benefited an ignominious list of defendants whose swindles, frauds and public corruption made them unlikely candidates for executive clemency. The recipients included people who not only abused their own positions of power but who also leveraged well-placed connections to pursue pardons from a president willing to use his authority to bless patrons and friends.

“It wasn’t about draining the swamp. It was the swamp,” said Sanjay Bhandari, a former Justice Department prosecutor who in 2005 secured a guilty plea from Randy “Duke” Cunningham, the former California congressman who was pardoned early Wednesday despite having accepted at least $2.4 million in home payments, yacht club fees and other bribes from defence contractors.

The White House cited Cunningham’s post-prison volunteer work, military career and the support he received from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Trump ally. But that explanation was lacking to Bhandari, who said it appeared that Cunningham and others in a “rogue’s gallery” of recipients benefited more from their proximity to power than from the actual merit of their cases.

“On a personal level, it’s hard to hold any personal animosity or venom toward the individual,” Bhandari said of Cunningham. But, “as a citizen looking at the process and looking at who has been chosen for a pardon and on what grounds — that’s what’s really disturbing.”

To be sure, presidents have broad discretion in their use of the pardon power and many have exercised it, albeit sparingly, on defendants to whom they have personal or political ties. George H.W. Bush pardoned Reagan administration officials implicated in the Iran-Contra scandal, and Bill Clinton pardoned fugitive financier Marc Rich, whose ex-wife was a substantial donor.

It’s also the case that many of the names on Trump’s last list were conventional and non-controversial selections, including relatively anonymous drug offenders seen as having rehabilitated themselves during long stays in prison.

Even so, “Trump has had a much higher percentage of his pardons be the sort of well-connected, personally connected-to-him, or to people close to him kind of folks,” said Michigan State University law professor Brian Kalt, an expert on pardons.

There were also notable omissions from the clemency list, not least Trump himself.

Despite speculation that the president might pardon himself in the face of potential legal jeopardy once he leaves office, and even though he had claimed that he had the absolute power to give himself one, Trump apparently opted not to do so. He also did not pardon any of his children or his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who has faced an investigation in New York, though the status of that probe is unclear.

Other allies, though, got a boost.

For instance, joining Cunningham on the pardon list was Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist. He was pulled from a yacht off the Connecticut coast in August and brought to Manhattan to face charges that he duped thousands of donors who believed their money would be used to fulfil Trump’s chief campaign promise to build a wall along the southern border.

Instead, he was accused of diverting over a million dollars, paying a salary to one campaign official and personal expenses for himself. His co-defendants were not pardoned.

The pardon was notable not only because Bannon has steadfastly asserted his innocence — the Justice Department pardon process values acceptance of responsibility — but because the criminal prosecution was still in its early stages. The pardon nullified the prosecution of Bannon while the trial was still months away, eliminating the prospect for any punishment for him.

Another recipient was Elliott Broidy, a major Trump fundraiser and former Republican National Committee deputy finance chairman. Prosecutors said Broidy collected millions of dollars in a back-channel but ultimately unsuccessful lobbying scheme aimed at getting the Trump administration to drop an investigation into embezzlement from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund and to extradite a Chinese dissident wanted by the government in Beijing.

He pleaded guilty last fall to acting as an unregistered lobbyist and was awaiting sentencing at the time of his pardon.

William “Billy” Walters, a prominent Las Vegas professional gambler who prosecutors said was worth millions and who was convicted in an insider trading case linked to pro golfer Phil Mickelson, had his sentence commuted by Trump. So did former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who has served more than seven years of a 28-year sentence for corruption crimes that involved bags of cash from city contractors and kickbacks hidden in the bra of his political fundraiser.

In the final minutes of his term, Trump pardoned Al Pirro, the ex-husband of Fox News Channel host Jeanine Pirro, in a tax evasion case.

Cunningham’s case was especially eye-popping, involving $2.4 million in cash, trips and other gifts from defence contractors in exchange for government contracts. President George W. Bush rebuked him for the “outrageous” conduct, though that didn’t stop Cunningham from seeking clemency from Bush before he left office.

“It’s not often that the president of the United States comments on an ongoing case and this had that level of corruption, where even the highest officials in the land looked at this and said, ’This is deeply disturbing,” Bhandari said.

He added: “When you have something that is that disturbing, I think you need to have something that is really compelling to offset it, particularly given that there are thousands upon thousands of people who have very compelling circumstances who apply for pardons as part of the normal process who are not granted pardons with far more compelling facts” than Cunningham’s case.

____

Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

Eric Tucker, The Associated Press

Donald Trump

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Lyn Radford, 2019 Canada Winter Games board chair, was named 2020 Sport Event Volunteer of the Year at the Prestige Awards. (File photo by Advocate staff)
WATCH: Lyn Radford wins award for volunteer efforts

The board chair of the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer… Continue reading

A candlelight vigil will be held in Red Deer on Thursday to honour the 350-plus people killed in the Easter bombing attack in Sri Lanka. Contributed photo
Candlelight vigil planned for deaths linked to Olymel COVID-19 outbreak

A candlelight vigil is being planned for those who died due to… Continue reading

Red Deer Rebels forward Jaxsen Wiebe battles Calgary Hitmen forward Cael Zimmerman for a loose puck when the two teams squared off in February last season. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Calgary Hitmen shutout Red Deer Rebels

Rebels name centre Jayden Grubbe team captain ahead of Friday’s game

Traffic will be delayed on 40th Avenue and 19th Street until the end of February. (Advocate file photo).
Traffic delays expected downtown this weekend

Red Deer drivers will be delayed in the downtown area of the… Continue reading

Bryson, six, and Mara, eight, play with puppies from Dogs With Wings Saturday. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
WATCH: Dogs With Wings introduces Red Deer program

A program that trains puppies to be certified service, autism, facility and… Continue reading

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, January 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Funeral for Walter Gretzky to be held Saturday in home town of Brantford, Ont.

The funeral for hockey legend Wayne Gretzky’s father Walter will take place… Continue reading

A sign for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service building is shown in Ottawa on May 14, 2013. A newly released audit report shows that difficulties with the judicial warrant process at Canada's spy agency — an issue that made headlines last summer — stretch back at least nine years. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Spy warrant shortcomings stretch back almost a decade, newly released audit shows

OTTAWA — A newly released audit report shows that difficulties with the… Continue reading

In this file photo, a lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018. (By THE CANADIAN PRESS)
No winning ticket for Friday night’s Lotto Max jackpot

TORONTO — No winning ticket was sold for the estimated $29 million… Continue reading

A trial countdown sign marks the days at George Floyd Square, March 4, 2021, in Minneapolis. Ten months after police officers brushed off George Floyd's moans for help on the street outside a south Minneapolis grocery, the square remains a makeshift memorial for Floyd who died at the hand of police making an arrest. The trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin will begin with jury selection on March 8. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Officer’s trial could reopen intersection where Floyd died

MINNEAPOLIS — During a group’s recent meeting at the now-vacant Speedway gas… Continue reading

FILE - In this Aug. 30, 2020 file photo Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell calls for an end to violence in the city during a news conference a day after a demonstrator was shot and killed in downtown Portland. Amid protests following the police killing of George Floyd last year Portland dissolved a special police unit designed to focus on gun violence. Critics say the squad unfairly targeted Black people, but gun violence and homicides have since spiked in Oregon's largest city, and some say disbanding the 35-officer unit was a mistake. (Sean Meagher/The Oregonian via AP, File)
As violence surges, some question Portland axing police unit

PORTLAND, Ore. — Elmer Yarborough got a terrifying call from his sister:… Continue reading

Harley Hay
Harley Hay: Just don’t call it cod liver oil

Many people swear that a daily dose of various vitamins is an… Continue reading

Email editor@auburn-reporter.com
Letter: Preserving green spaces in Red Deer

The Advocate published an article Feb. 11 about Sunnybrook residents concerned about… Continue reading

Former Toronto Argonauts lineman Chris Schultz remembered as a gentle giant

Former Toronto Argonauts lineman Chris Schultz remembered as a gentle giant

Most Read