‘Treated un­fairly:’ Trump stirs cu­rios­ity with round of pardons

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY S.A. MILLER

Pres­i­dent Trump raised eye­brows Thurs­day with an un­ortho­dox use of his par­don power, let­ting film­maker Di­nesh D’Souza off the hook for cam­paign fi­nance vi­o­la­tions and sug­gest­ing re­prieves for two more celebrity con­victs: for­mer Illi­nois Gov. Rod R. Blago­je­vich and lifestyle maven Martha Ste­wart.

Mr. Trump has used his power to grant clemency — one of the most ab­so­lute au­thor­i­ties a pres­i­dent pos­sesses — in an unusual man­ner: by scan­ning TV and news­pa­per head­lines and se­lect­ing cases where he sees in­jus­tice and then de­liv­er­ing his own brand of pres­i­den­tial mercy.

But the free­wheel­ing use of clemency, though within his con­sti­tu­tional author­ity, is fu­el­ing sus­pi­cion on the left that Mr. Trump is merely warm­ing up his par­don pen for al­lies caught up in spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian med­dling in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

One con­sti­tu­tional scholar has even cited im­peach­ment as a po­ten­tial rem­edy for abuse of the Oval Of­fice’s power to is­sue pardons.

Mr. Trump said he didn’t have a personal re­la­tion­ship with Mr. D’Souza but knew about his case and thought he got a raw deal. “No­body asked me to do it,” Mr. Trump told re­porters trav­el­ing with him on Air Force One. “I’ve al­ways felt he was very un­fairly treated.”

Mr. D’Souza pleaded guilty in 2014 to mak­ing an il­le­gal cam­paign con­tri­bu­tion to New York politi­cian Went Long. He was sen­tenced to five years of pro­ba­tion, eight months in a half­way house and a $30,000 fine.

Con­ser­va­tives said the charges were the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s po­lit­i­cal pay­back for Mr. D’Souza’s films that ripped Pres­i­dent Obama and the Demo­cratic Party. The par­don spurred howls on the left. Float­ing clemency for Blago­je­vich and Ms. Ste­wart, how­ever, was star­tling.

“I have no idea why Blago­je­vich and Ste­wart are on the pres­i­dent’s radar,” said Andrew Ru­dale­vige, a scholar of pres­i­den­tial pow­ers at Bow­doin Col­lege in Brunswick, Maine. “But, the pres­i­den­tial par­don power is one of the few Ar­ti­cle II pow­ers that is not checked by the other branches, in part be­cause it is it­self a po­ten­tial check on the courts.”

Re­gard­ing Blago­je­vich, who is serv­ing 14 years for cor­rup­tion as gover­nor, in­clud­ing try­ing to “sell” an ap­point­ment to a va­cant Se­nate seat, Mr. Trump said the prison sen­tence was too long.

“Plenty of other politi­cians have said a lot worse. He shouldn’t have been put in jail,” Mr. Trump said. “And he’s a Democrat. He’s not my party. But I thought that he was treated un­fairly.”

Mr. Trump has links to both Blago­je­vich and Ms. Ste­wart, al­though nei­ther is con­sid­ered close or po­lit­i­cally al­lied with the pres­i­dent.

Blago­je­vich was a con­tes­tant on Mr. Trump’s re­al­ity TV show “The Ap­pren­tice.”

Ms. Ste­wart starred in a spinoff of “The Ap­pren­tice.” She was pros­e­cuted in 2004 by U.S. At­tor­ney James B. Comey, who went on to be­come FBI direc­tor un­til he was fired by Mr. Trump.

Mr. D’Souza al­ways in­sisted he was the tar­get of po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated prose­cu­tion.

The U.S. at­tor­ney who over­saw his prose­cu­tion, Preet Bharara, was fired by Mr. Trump when Mr. Bharara re­fused to re­sign. Mr. Bharara has since be­come an outspoken critic of Mr. Trump.

Mr. D’Souza said his case showed how Pres­i­dent Obama and Hil­lary Clin­ton “gang­ster­ized U.S. pol­i­tics.”

“With regards to Preet Bharara, I see him along with [for­mer At­tor­ney Gen­eral] Eric Holder as sort of part of this Obama team of goons that was un­leashed to get me in re­tal­i­a­tion for the movie I made about Obama,” Mr. D’Souza said on Laura In­gra­ham’s ra­dio show.

Mr. Bharara said the pres­i­den­tial par­don did not change the fact that Mr. D’Souza broke the law.

“The Pres­i­dent has the right to par­don but the facts are these: D’Souza in­ten­tion­ally broke the law, vol­un­tar­ily pled guilty, apol­o­gized for his con­duct & the judge found no un­fair­ness. The career pros­e­cu­tors and agents did their job. Pe­riod,” tweeted Mr. Bharara.

Car­rie H. Co­hen, who led the fed­eral prose­cu­tion of Mr. D’Souza, said he “pleaded guilty be­cause he was guilty.”

Oth­ers on the left saw a more sin­is­ter mo­ti­va­tion.

The lib­eral group Pub­lic Cit­i­zen de­scribed the par­don as a “blaz­ing sig­nal” to Mr. Trump’s al­lies that they will be re­warded for loy­alty amid Mr. Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

David Don­nelly, pres­i­dent of the lib­eral ad­vo­cacy group Ev­ery Voice, said it “sent a mes­sage to his friends and cronies that if you break laws to pro­tect him or at­tack our democ­racy, he’s got your back.”

Mr. Trump weath­ered crit­i­cism for some of his pre­vi­ous four pardons. He was ac­cused of bail­ing out cronies when he par­doned for­mer Mari­copa County (Ari­zona) Sher­iff Joe Ar­paio for con­tempt of court.

The left also ac­cused Mr. Trump of send­ing a mes­sage to al­lies when he par­doned I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, an of­fi­cial in the Ge­orge W. Bush White House who was con­victed of per­jury and ob­struc­tion of jus­tice in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of leak­ing the covert iden­tity of CIA agent Va­lerie Plame.

Ja­mal Greene, a con­sti­tu­tional scholar at Columbia Law School, said the pres­i­dent’s power to par­don is broad but not ab­so­lute.

“If a pres­i­dent were to is­sue pardons cor­ruptly — for ex­am­ple, to help in­su­late him­self from crim­i­nal process or to pun­ish his po­lit­i­cal en­e­mies — I think Congress would be en­ti­tled to think of it as an abuse of of­fice,” he said.

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