Tuesday, February 18, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He normalized pardoning corruption.

Trump issued pardons or clemencies to eleven federal felons today. At least eight of them had personal connections to Trump or his fixer Rudy Giuliani, or had been accused of crimes that Trump himself is thought to have committed. They included:

  • Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, who was convicted on corruption charges after being impeached and expelled from office for trying to sell then-President Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat. Blagojevich befriended Trump on the set of Trump's one bona fide business success, hosting the reality show The Apprentice.
    • Trump was impeached (but not removed from office) for trying to promote corruption in Ukraine.
  • Michael Milken, a bonds trader who shared the New York City limelight with Trump in the 1980s before being convicted of tax fraud and securities reporting violations. 
  • Bernard Kerik, the disgraced former NYPD chief under then-mayor Rudy Giuliani. Kerik, too, was convicted of tax evasion. Giuliani promoted Kerik, in spite of limited qualifications, because he had served on the mayor's security detail. He was briefly considered for the new post of Secretary of Homeland Security by the George W. Bush administration, but was forced to withdraw after he lied to officials about his ties to organized crime.
  • Ari Friedler, the CEO of an educational services company and (like many pardoned today) a prominent Trump donor, who was convicted of hacking into competitors' computers.
    • Trump—who also dabbled in "educational services" of a more illegal sort—benefited from the Russian government's hacking of the Democratic National Committee servers. Two dozen Russians remain under indictment.
  • Edward DeBartolo, Jr., was convicted of bribery—technically, failing to report a felony—when he paid $400,000 in hundred-dollar bills to Edwin Edwards, who was then the governor of Louisiana, for a gambling license. New England Patriots owner and Trump megadonor Robert Kraft personally lobbied him for the pardon, according to the White House's own statement.
    • Trump's attempts to force Ukraine to do him a political favor were characterized by those seeking his impeachment as the solicitation of a bribe, and may yet be prosecutable under the federal bribery statute.
  • Paul Pogue, a construction company owner who was convicted of tax fraud.
  • David Safavian, an official at the General Services Administration, who was convicted of perjury for lying about his connections to the infamous lobbyist-criminal Jack Abramoff. Abramoff grossly overbilled his clients for lobbying services, in some cases actively lobbying both sides of an issue, and bribed lawmakers in one of the biggest scandals in recent political history.
  • Angela Stanton, a reality TV personality convicted of crimes related to her participation in an auto theft ring.
    • Trump, whose devotion to TV as an art form is genuine and at times obsessive, seems to have a real soft spot for his fellow reality TV stars. He'd also likely approve of Stanton's first act after receiving her pardon, which was to plug her book on Twitter

Trump also spent the day renewing his attacks on the federal prosecutors who brought charges against his friend and political ally Roger Stone, the judge handling the case, and even the jurors who found Stone guilty. Trump bizarrely threatened to sue them himself—how, and for what, he didn't say. Today's pardons are widely seen as Trump preparing the way for a pardon of Stone himself, who is in a position to confirm large portions of the Mueller report on Trump's Russia ties. 

Why does this matter?

  • Ignoring crimes if they benefit the leader is what dictators do.
  • Promoting corruption, cheating on the taxes that other Americans pay, lying under oath, soliciting bribes, and undermining Americans' faith in elections are serious crimes no matter who does them.
  • Whether a convicted criminal is shown mercy shouldn't depend on whether they have political or financial connections to the president.