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