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Trump Pardons Reminiscent Of ‘Kleptocratic’ Regimes

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

On February 18, President Donald Trump granted presidential pardons or clemency to 11 people, ranging from former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to financial criminal Michael Milken (dubbed “The Junk Bond King”) to former New York City Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik (a long-time ally of Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani). Trump has drawn some praise from the left for pardoning two non-violent drug offenders, Crystal Munoz and Tynice Nichole Hall, but he reserved most his pardons for wealthy white males convicted of white-collar crimes. Sarah Chayes, author of the book Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens National Security, analyzes Trump’s recent pardon/clemency spree in an article for The Atlantic — and explains why the pardon of Blagojevich and others reminds her of the type of corruption she has studied in some developing countries.

“Donald Trump’s decision this week to pardon several Americans convicted of fraud or corruption has garnered condemnation from many in the political establishment,” Chayes explains. “The pardons were shocking to some, but to me, they were eerily familiar — straight out of the kleptocratic playbook I’ve experienced and studied in a dozen other countries.

Chayes cites Afghanistan as one of the “kleptocracies” she has studied. A “palace aide” in that country, Chayes recalls, was arrested for “extorting a bribe,” but the charge was dropped after Afghan President Hamid Karzai “made a call.”

“Corruption, I realized with a start, is not simply a matter of individual greed,” Chayes observes. “It is more like a sophisticated operating system, employed by networks whose objective is to maximize their members’ riches. And a bargain holds that system together: money and favors flow upward — from aides to presidents, for instance — and downward in return.”

The timing of Trump’s 11 pardons, according to Chayes, is especially troubling.

“Trump’s clemency came not at the end of his time in office, as is sometimes the case with such favors bestowed on cronies and swindlers, but well before that — indeed, ahead of an election in which he is running,” Chayes warns. “The gesture was not a guilty half-secret, but a promise. It was meant to show that the guarantee of impunity for choice members of America’s corrupt networks is an ongoing principle.”

#EndorseThis: Anderson Cooper Blasts Blagojevich’s Baloney

Were you appalled by Rod Blagojevich’s proclamation that he was a “political prisoner”? Following his Trump pardon, the former Illinois governor has gone around pretending he wasn’t convicted of bribery and extortion by a jury of his peers, but was instead somehow victimized by unscrupulous law enforcement.

Obviously, the crooked former Illinois governor is full of it – and Anderson Cooper is outraged.

The CNN anchor is having none of Blago’s nonsense and let him know quite forcefully the other night on air. Anderson blasts Blagojevich for whitewashing his own crimes while besmirching the honest prosecutors who nailed him – and then acidly mentions just how little Blago did as governor to right injustices within the Illinois penal system.

Polite preppy though he is, Anderson finally lets go with a pungent one-word response to this ex-felon’s brazen phoniness. Yes, he mad — and funny.

Trump’s Corrupt Pardon Spree Has Just Begun

The power of the president to grant pardons as stated in the Constitution is unconditional, as President Donald Trump has observed. But as he prepares to bestow that favor on Roger Stone and perhaps other felons who have protected him, someone should advise him that a corrupt pardon is nevertheless a crime that can be prosecuted, if not overturned.

So Bill Clinton learned soon after he pardoned Marc Rich on the last day of his presidency, Jan. 20, 2001. Public anger exploded within days after Clinton granted a conditional reprieve to the infamous “fugitive financier,” who had skipped to a Swiss chateau, evading trial on charges of tax evasion, sanctions violations and conspiracy. Among those most infuriated by Clinton’s surprise decision were the federal prosecutors who spent years chasing Rich.

Suspicion centered on generous political and charitable donations by Rich’s ex-wife over a period of years to various Clinton campaigns and the Clinton Foundation. Mary Jo White, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, swiftly announced that her office had opened a criminal investigation of Clinton — the president who had appointed her. That probe continued for a few years under the watchful eye of James Comey, chosen by then-President George W. Bush to replace White.

No doubt Comey and his boss, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft — who had voted to convict Clinton in his Senate impeachment trial — would have relished indicting the former president. The investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing, however. Clinton’s actual motive was to reward then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who personally called the Oval Office three times seeking a pardon for Rich in the midst of peace talks with the Palestinians. (As usual, under the “Clinton rules,” the former president’s eventual exoneration went unnoticed in major media outlets.)

But the immediate outrage over Rich’s pardon inflamed media outlets for weeks, setting the stage for both congressional and prosecutorial inquiries. Today the same politicians of both parties who screamed about Clinton are silent.

Have none of them noticed the massive flows of donor money surrounding the Trump pardons? Never mind the blatant influence peddling by former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and various other presidential cronies and supporters. If the Rich donations were suspect, what about the cash poured into Trump’s coffers by those seeking pardons and their advocates?

Dallas Republican donor Doug Deason and his billionaire father gave more than a million dollars to the pro-Trump America First PAC. Their generosity seems to have greased the pardon of David Safavian, a former federal official convicted of obstruction and perjury in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.

Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam Adelson, have given more than $200 million to Republican causes, including at least $30 million to Trump-related committees in recent years and $500,000 to a defense fund for Trump aides coping with special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe. They asked that Trump pardon junk-bond crook Michael Milken and got their wish. (Mrs. Adelson also got the Presidential Medal of Freedom.)

And then there’s the Pogue family, also from Dallas, which forked over $85,000 last year jointly to the president’s reelection committee and the Republican Party — and got a gift-wrapped pardon for its patriarch, Paul Pogue, a construction magnate convicted of tax fraud. Pushing the Pogue pardon was former Sen. Rick Santorum, the Pennsylvania Republican who brayed loudly about the Rich case.

If the Trump pardons look sketchy, consider the fact that Trump simply ignored the Justice Department process that is traditionally employed in evaluating such requests. He knows that the law enforcement apparatus headed by Attorney General William Barr will let him abuse his power freely, while perhaps uttering a feeble protest. Or not.

We will soon see how far Trump will go in abusing the pardon authority. He appears to be preparing to do far worse than handing out clemency for cash. The judge who sentenced Roger Stone to almost four years in prison accused the dirty trickster of lying to “protect the president.” When Trump pardons Stone, Paul Manafort and others implicated in the Russia scandal, he will cap the most troubling cover-up in American history.

If Clinton was subject to investigation and possible prosecution, then Trump should be too.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

A Manafort Pardon Would Prove Trump’s Guilt

No longer can there be any doubt that Paul Manafort expects Donald Trump to pardon him — and that Trump has encouraged that expectation in a broad strategy to obstruct the Russia investigation over the past two years.

The signals emanating from Manafort’s legal team over the past few days could scarcely have been clearer. Moments after Judge Amy Berman Jackson extended Manafort’s federal prison time to seven and a half years, his lawyer, Kevin Downing, assured the assembled press outside the Washington courthouse that the judge’s sentence indicated there had been “no collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia. Downing uttered that false statement just minutes after Judge Jackson had scolded him in court for making exactly the same irrelevant remark following Manafort’s sentencing last week in Virginia.

As the judge said, those statements were intended not for the court but for the White House, echoing the president’s own favorite alibi. Coming from Manafort, through his legal mouthpiece, “no collusion” means “I didn’t tell Robert Mueller about any collusion.”

Meanwhile, the ongoing collusion between Trump and Manafort has been obvious for months. Not only has the president said that he feels sorry for his deeply corrupt campaign manager, but he has plainly suggested that a pardon is under consideration. Even when Manafort pled guilty and signed a cooperation agreement with the special counsel last fall, Trump never criticized him — as he began to do almost immediately when Michael Cohen flipped.

“Paul Manafort was with me for a short period of time. He did a good job,” Trump said. “I was very happy with the job he did. And I will tell you this: I believe that he will tell the truth. And if he tells the truth, no problem.”

Manafort never told the truth, as Mueller’s prosecutors subsequently proved in court. And Trump had reason to feel confident about his former campaign manager’s loyalty; during the entire time that he was supposedly “cooperating,” his legal counsel maintained a joint defense agreement with Trump’s lawyers.

Beyond the smoke signals going back and forth with Manafort about a potential pardon, it is now clear that Trump’s representatives “dangled” the same reward in front of Cohen not long after he was arrested last year.

At first, Trump protested bitterly against the arrest and the FBI raid on Cohen’s home and office. Around the same time, as CNN recently revealed, Giuliani associate Robert Costello acted as a back channel to the White House for Cohen. In an email obtained by the cable network, Costello assured the former Trump fixer, “Sleep well tonight, you have friends in high places.” Not anymore.

Now Cohen is heading to prison without any prospect of assistance from the White House. What can Manafort expect?

Leaving aside the state charges filed against him by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance — which conceivably may be voided as an instance of double jeopardy — there are obstacles to a Manafort pardon.

Several Republican senators have reportedly warned Trump that pardoning anyone who could testify against him is a “red line” that he should not cross. It would lend too much additional weight to the already voluminous evidence of an obstruction conspiracy — and might lead rapidly toward impeachment.

And even if there were not enough Republican votes to find him guilty in a Senate impeachment trial, a corrupt pardon could result in a post-presidential prosecution of Trump. The pardon power permits almost anything, but there is broad agreement that it cannot be sold or bargained to benefit the president or his family. When Justice Department attorneys suspected Bill Clinton of corruption in pardoning Marc Rich, they spent years pursuing that case — and only quit when they could find no evidence of wrongdoing. The same theory would surely apply to Trump.

No, given Trump’s propensity for double-dealing, he might very well let Manafort believe a pardon is forthcoming — and then forget to sign the papers before he leaves office. He can be reckless, but this pardon is very high-risk.

The only reason Trump will ever deliver such a perilous favor is because Manafort knows something deeply incriminating about the president and his 2016 campaign. Should it ever come, a Manafort pardon will be the ultimate proof of Trump’s guilt.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.