President Trump Goes On Clemency Spree, And The List Is Long

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President Donald Trump talks to the media before he boards Air Force One for a trip to Los Angeles to attend a campaign fundraiser, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump has gone on a clemency blitz, commuting the 14-year prison sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and pardoning former NYPD commissioner Bernie Kerik, among a long list of others.

Trump also told reporters that he has pardoned financier Michael Milken, who pleaded guilty for violating U.S. securities laws and served two years in prison in the early 1990s. Trump also pardoned Edward DeBartolo Jr., the former San Francisco 49ers owner convicted in a gambling fraud scandal who built one of the most successful NFL teams in the game’s history.

Blagojevich, who appeared on Trump’s reality TV show, “Celebrity Apprentice,” was convicted of political corruption, including seeking to sell an appointment to Barack Obama’s old Senate seat and trying to shake down a children’s hospital. But Trump said he had been subjected to a “ridiculous sentence” that didn’t fit his crimes.

Kerik served just over three years for tax fraud and lying to the White House while being interviewed to be Homeland Security secretary.

“We have Bernie Kerik, we have Mike Milken, who’s gone around and done an incredible job,” Trump said, adding that Milken had “paid a big price.”

Earlier, the White House announced that Trump had pardoned DeBartolo Jr., who was involved in one of the biggest owners’ scandals in the sport’s history. In 1998, he pleaded guilty to failing to report a felony when he paid $400,000 to former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards in exchange for a riverboat gambling license.

He also pardoned Ariel Friedler, a technology entrepreneur, who pleaded guilty to accessing a computer without authorization; Paul Pogue a construction company owner who underpaid his taxes; David Safavian, who was convicted of obstructing an investigation into a trip he took while he was a senior government official; and Angela Stanton, an author who served a six-month home sentence for her role in a stolen vehicle ring.

Blagojevich, a Democrat who hails from a state with a long history of pay-to-play schemes, exhausted his last appellate option in 2018 and had seemed destined to remain behind bars until his projected 2024 release date. His wife, Patti, went on a media blitz in 2018 to encourage Trump to step in, praising the president and likening the investigation of her husband to special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election — a probe Trump long characterized as a “witchhunt.”

Blagojevich’s conviction was notable, even in a state where four of the last 10 governors have gone to prison for corruption. Judge James Zagel — who in 2011 sentenced Blagojevich to the longest prison term yet for an Illinois politician — said when a governor “goes bad, the fabric of Illinois is torn and disfigured.”

Blagojevich became the brunt of jokes for foul-mouthed rants on wiretaps released after his Dec. 9, 2008, arrest while still governor. On the most notorious recording, he gushes about profiting by naming someone to the seat Obama vacated to become president: “I’ve got this thing and it’s f—— golden. And I’m just not giving it up for f—— nothing.”

When Trump publicly broached the idea in May 2018 of intervening to free Blagojevich, he downplayed the former governor’s crimes. He said Blagojevich was convicted for “being stupid, saying things that every other politician, you know, that many other politicians say.” He said Blagojevich’s sentence was too harsh.

Prosecutors have balked at the notion long fostered by Blagojevich that he engaged in common political horse-trading and was a victim of an overzealous U.S. attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald said after Blagojevich’s arrest that the governor had gone on “a political corruption crime spree” that would make Abraham Lincoln turn over in his grave.

Mueller — a subject of Trump’s derision — was FBI director during the investigation into Blagojevich. Fitzgerald is now a private attorney for another former FBI director, James Comey, whom Trump dismissed from the agency in May 2017.

Trump also expressed some sympathy for Blagojevich when he appeared on “Celebrity Apprentice” in 2010 before his first corruption trial started. As Trump “fired” Blagojevich as a contestant, he praised him for how he was fighting his criminal case, telling him: “You have a hell of a lot of guts.”

He later poll-tested the matter, asking for a show of hands of those who supported clemency at an October, 2019 fundraiser at his Chicago hotel. Most of the 200 to 300 attendees raised their hands, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing several people at the event.

Blagojevich testified at his 2011 retrial, describing himself as a flawed dreamer grounded in his parents’ working-class values. He sought to humanize himself to counteract the blunt, profane, seemingly greedy Blagojevich heard on wiretap recordings played in court by prosecutors over several weeks. He said the hours of FBI recordings were the ramblings of a politician who liked to think out loud.

But jurors accepted evidence that Blagojevich demanded a $50,000 donation from the head of a children’s hospital in return for increased state support, and extorted $100,000 in donations from two horse racing tracks and a racing executive in exchange for quick approval of legislation the tracks wanted.

He originally convicted on 18 counts, including lying to the FBI, wire fraud for trying to trade an appointment to the Obama seat for contributions, and for the attempted extortion of a children’s hospital executive. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago in 2015 tossed five of 18 convictions, including ones in which he offered to appoint someone to a high-paying job in the Senate.

The appeals court ordered the trial judge to resentence Blagojevich, but suggested it would be appropriate to hand him the same sentence, given the gravity of the crimes. Blagojevich appeared via live video from prison during the 2016 resentencing and asked for leniency. The judge gave him the same 14-year term, saying it was below federal guidelines when he imposed it the first time.

Blagojevich had once aspired to run for president himself but entered the Federal Correctional Institution Englewood in suburban Denver in 2012, disgraced and broke. Court documents filed by his lawyers in 2016 portrayed Blagojevich — known as brash in his days as governor — as humble and self-effacing, as well as an insightful life coach and lecturer on everything from the Civil War to Richard Nixon. Blagojevich, an Elvis Presley fan, also formed a prison band called “The Jailhouse Rockers.”

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47 COMMENTS

      • Maybe in your mind. If it wasn’t for Hashem using him to get information to Israel (an ally, just FYI), the 1st Gulf War would have turned out differently. I thank G-d for that, since I sat in my sealed room with my family & gas masks at the ready. So, no, he’s neither a felon nor a traitor. Just someone who tried to do good and was thrown under the bus by a promised plea deal that never happened.

        • Wait are you saying he wasn’t convicted and found guilty of espionage? That’s a traitor and a felon. No way around it. Now if you want to argue that he did it altruistically and it’s about hashem and what not, you are welcome to explain that to Trump.

    • Kol hakavod means literally, “all the honor”; idiomatically, “good for you.”
      It’s common knowledge among 90% or so of this newsblog’s readership. And now you and the other 10% are in on the secret.
      Translating “kol hakavod” into English is like translating “chutzpah” into English. It loses 2000+ years of cultural and emotional energy.

      • Chutzpah doesn’t need translation as it’s part of the US vernacular. Kol hakavod is an Israeli expression and it should stay there. American Jews have our own superior culture and we shouldn’t import theirs to our shores.

  1. We are living in interesting times.

    People convicted of white collar, non-violent crimes receive sentences that can be extreme and border on the ridiculous. Many of these emerge from prison reformed and frightened stiff of crossing the limits of the law. Releasing them early allows them to recover their status and assets, and enables them to compensate their victims.

    All the while, the violent criminals are more apt to get lighter sentences, spend their jail time “behaving”, but really continuing their criminal behavior in a more clandestine manner to avoid getting caught. They emerge much as they were upon entering, and the cycle repeats. Yet, these are the ones that should stay incarcerated for longer to protect the public. Yes, the recidivists are primarily the violent ones. But we listen to sob stories of their being victims of abuse, poverty, etc., and spring them back to attack society.

    Yes, I generalized. But the numbers point in that direction.

  2. Pollard will be coming to Israel with bi bi before elections in March. Now if satmar was smart they could get out a few of their guys who are in prison. The leadership don’t care because they are in bed with the democRATs. Leadership I mean the machers who twist the arms of their rebbes on what to do.

  3. Bernie Kerik should of never been pardoned. As top Donut Eater he should of been held to a higher standard. This Kerik lowlife dirtbag (Judith Regan…) ruined thousands of lives as police chief and should be made to pay for his crimes. The little slap on the wrist he got for committing Federal crimes, is a disgrace and shows how corrupt our system is. If your a top cop and a member of the all white mens club, you’re above the law. If a Frum person who of committed the exact aame crimes as this donut eater bum, he would of gotten at minimum, a 27 year sentence.

  4. I agree with Trump that Blagojevich needed to have his excessive sentence commuted. Fourteen years for political corruption in Illinois, for trying to sell a Senate seat, was extremely excessive; five years would have been more than enough. The only complaint that I have with this, (to paraphrase what Golda Meir told Anwar Sadat, when he first came to Israel), is “what took you so long”? Blago should have been freed two years ago. For some reason, the Republican party in Illinois, including their Congressional delegation still had it in for Blago, and they lobbied Trump not to commute his sentence, causing a long delay.

    Regarding that sleazeball, Bernard Kerik, who served four years for tax evasion, and for lying to federal authorities, I never would have pardoned him. He was as corrupt as they come, and was the only Police Commissioner in the over 150 year history of the NYPD, to have been convicted of federal crimes, and sentenced to prison. He got what he deserved, and it was only because of the lobbying of Guiliani and other friends, that he got pardoned.

    Now, for the comments regarding Jonathan Pollard; the commentators are pointing the finger at the wrong person (Trump). Why don’t those same commentators complain to the Israeli government? Its handlers brainwashed Pollard into stealing thousands of classified documents. Those handlers violated a long standing Israeli policy, that it would never employ American Jews to spy on the USA, on behalf of Israel. It was never a “rogue” operation. Rather, it had the approval at the highest level, including Yitzchak Rabin, and Shimon Peres. The former head of the Mossad, Rafi Eitan, also double crossed Pollard, and was a persona non grata, as he was not permitted to ever come back to the USA. Also, one of Pollard’s handlers, Colonel Aviem Sella (an Air Force hero, whom Pollard looked up to), fled the USA, as soon as Pollard was arrested. In the end, he was no hero, but a coward, who let Pollard face the music alone. If Sella had returned to the USA, and returned the thousands of classified documents which Pollard had stolen, Pollard would have been out of jail, decades ago. Also, because of Israel’s intransigence in cooperating with the USA, both Pollard and his first wife, Anne Henderson Pollard were abused and mistreated in prison for years. She was denied medical treatment, in an effort to get Pollard to talk. To this day, the entire Pollard affair, and the way that Israel handled it, stinks!

  5. The criminal justice in th US is frightening. Deadly prosecutors make their careers by mercilessly destroying lives, putting people in cages for lifetimes for crimes that are nowhere near the severity they are punished with. Families are torn apart. Widows and orphans are created by vicious prosecutors with unlimited resourced and time. Then murderous judges gleefully give their stamp of approval and the poor victim is burned at the stake. This is an Inquisition, not a justice system. It looks like Trump realizes this and is taking them on with criminal reform, pardons and PR campaigns on Twitter. This wasn’t even an election promise- Trump is doing MORE than he promised ! And all you Trump haters could eat your hats and move the hell out of this country. Go live in Russia with Sanders.

    • Cuomo and DeBlasio should be arrested for enforcing a Sanctuary City. That is a Federal offense. If these 2 crooks, who WE pay their stinking salary, are allowed to break the law, WHY CAN’T WE???

  6. No, orange man has money , 3 wives and chutzpa. Lets make sure all these shoplifters, and other dreck stay a long time inn jail as they deserve and the fine lawbreakers a freed immediatelty

  7. Pollard is out of prison. You can’t make Mishiga for perfection. He is ok now. Yes he is limited but he got the big prize.

    Yes it’s time to let out white collar criminals from mass incarceration. Mr Yingel or yid or your other ten lying screen names, yes our justice system is a Mockery. Thanks to you stupid liberals. You guys believe let hard core minorties like the black rasha yms who stabbed a frum Jew in Monsey Bec he is mentally ill. But lock up some Rich white dude bec it advances your career . So billgovotch should get more than the Monsey murderer? Makes sense to you ? To me that’s a mockery.

    Thanks trump for making Seder .

  8. Democratic president Barack Obama pardoned 212 people and commuted the sentences of a further 1,715 people.
    Did anybody refer to Obama’s “spree”, when he granted 64 pardons and 208 commutations, with less than four days left in his presidency?

    • He did not need and did not expect their services but his president likely to win will need new liars willing to put out their derrier for new lies. This president lies when gets up and when lies down

  9. Our corrupt President pardoned those who contributed to his campaign or who he heard about on Faux news. There are many in prison more deserving who don’t have connections to the GOP or Faux News.

    • Poor Gloria, like most of her fellow Democrats, hasn’t had an original idea in 40 years or more, so she still thinks that “Faux News” is a witty insult rather than what it really is, the sign of the empty-headed NPC.

      Poor Gloria also can’t be bothered to read beyond the headlines, otherwise she’d find, for example, that among those given clemency was one Crystal Munoz, who spent the past 12 years in prison for drawing a map that was used by drug smugglers (even though she never possessed or sold any drugs). Apparently Gloria would prefer to let this Hispanic woman – not a campaign contributor, and not someone featured on Fox News – rot in jail, just so long as Orange Man Bad doesn’t get any credit.

  10. I’m glad that when President Trump commuted Rabbi Rubashkin’s sentence in 2017 (he also served eight long years for financial crimes), there was practically no mention of it in the news media, and no negative comments then, as there appear to be now.

    • Lousy comparison, Rubashkin’s 27 year sentence was definitely a travesty of justice and the eight years he rotted in jail is hard to imagine. Blago, on the other hand was corrupt through and through, yet he also served his eight years so i’ll give him the benefit of doubt that he paid his dues.

      Rubashkin’s 8 years were for no reason except some cholera judge with a gripe.
      Blago’s 8 years were legitimate !

  11. Lousy comparison, Rubashkin’s 27 year sentence was definitely a travesty of justice and the eight years he rotted in jail is hard to imagine. Blago, on the other hand was corrupt through and through, yet he also served his eight years so i’ll give him the benefit of doubt that he paid his dues.

    Rubashkin’s 8 years were for no reason except some cholera judge with a gripe.
    Blago’s 8 years were legitimate !

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