President Donald Trump issued dozens of pardons on his last night in the White House, including one to his former campaign chief and ex-White House advisor, Steve Bannon, who was charged with swindling donors to a supposed effort to build a wall on the border with Mexico.
Trump issued 73 pardons, including for Elliott Broidy, a major Republican fundraiser who pleaded guilty last fall to acting as an unregistered foreign agent, and the rapper Lil Wayne, who pleaded guilty to a weapons charge last month.
Ex-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who has been serving a 28-year prison sentence for fraud charges, had his sentence commuted by Trump, as did Eliyahu Weinstein, who had 16 years left to serve on a sentence in a case where he swindled hundreds of millions of dollars from victims in a New Jersey-based Ponzi scheme.
Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon exits the Manhattan Federal Court, following his arraignment hearing for conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering, in New York, August 20, 2020.
Andrew Kelly | Reuters
Another rapper, Kodak Black, who has been serving a three-year prison term for weapons-related charges, had his sentence commuted as well. A total of 67 other people had their criminal sentences commuted by Trump.
Trump did not issue a pardon to himself, or to any of his adult children, despite speculation he would do so despite the lack of any pending federal criminal charges against any of them.
Bannon, former head of the conservative news site Breitbart, was arrested last year with several co-defendants on federal charges in New York but had yet to stand trial. He was free on a $5 million bond.
He and the other defendants are accused of defrauding donors to a nonprofit group that ostensibly planned to use the money to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, a political obsession of Trump and many of his supporters.
Another pardon recipient was Anthony Levandowski, a former engineer for Google‘s self-driving car unit, who last August was sentenced to 18 months in prison for stealing more than 14,000 Google files before leaving the company to join Uber‘s robocar effort.
The sentencing judge in Levandowski’s case called it the “biggest trade-secret crime I have ever seen.”
Kenneth Kurson, a confidante of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, also received a pardon. Kurson, who once was editor of a Kushner-owned newspaper in New York, was charged last year in Brooklyn federal court with cyberstalking and harassing three people, including a former friend whom he blamed for the break-up of his marriage.
Another pardon recipient was the conservative political operative Paul Erickson, a former boyfriend of the secret Kremlin agent Maria Butina. Erickson was sentenced in July to seven years in prison for wire fraud and money laundering.
The pardons were the third big group of grants of executive clemency issued by Trump since his election loss in November to Joe Biden, who is set to be inaugurated as president at midday ET Wednesday.
In December, Trump pardoned a rogue’s gallery of felons connected to him, including former campaign manager Paul Manafort, Republican political operative and longtime Trump friend Roger Stone, his daughter Ivanka’s father-in-law, Charles Kushner, and former campaign advisor George Papadopoulos.
Others granted pardons by Trump last month were four former Blackwater USA guards convicted of killing 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians in 2007, disgraced ex-GOP congressmen Duncan Hunter and Chris Collins, and Philip Esformes, a Florida health-care facility owner convicted of what prosecutors have said was the biggest health-care fraud ever charged by the Department of Justice.
Presidential pardons only apply to convictions for federal crimes. Presidents do not have the power to pardon people for state crimes.
Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, currently is the target of a criminal investigation by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s office.
The probe, which originally was focused on how the company accounted for hush money payments paid to two women who claim they had sex with Trump has expand to include questions of how the Trump Organization valued real estate assets. Trump denies he had sex with the women.