Trump’s Pardon of Flynn Signals Prospect of a Wave in His Final Weeks in Office
WASHINGTON — When President Trump pardoned Michael T. Flynn on Wednesday, he did more than wipe clean the record of his first national security adviser, who had twice pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. He also bolstered the hopes of a wide array of clemency seekers that he might deliver a wave of pardons and commutations before leaving office.
Among the others looking for pardons are two former Trump campaign advisers, Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos, who like Mr. Flynn were convicted in cases stemming from the special counsel’s Russia investigation.
But lawyers and others who have been in touch with the White House say they anticipate that Mr. Trump will use his authority in cases that extend beyond those involving the special counsel’s inquiry and the lengthy cast of aides and associates who have gotten in legal trouble since he first ran for the presidency.
Alan Dershowitz, the law professor who represented Mr. Trump during his impeachment trial, is advising two of his clients — a New Jersey man serving more than 20 years for defrauding investors, and a billionaire businessman convicted in what’s been called “one of North Carolina’s worst government corruption scandals” — on whether to seek clemency.
Mr. Dershowitz said he recently discussed the pardon process with the White House. He praised Mr. Trump’s pardon of Mr. Flynn, and said that “he should extend that to others who are less well known.”
Several groups that have pushed for a criminal justice overhaul are working with an ad hoc White House team under the direction of Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, with a goal of announcing as many as hundreds of commutations for offenders now in jail for crimes ranging from nonviolent drug convictions to mail fraud and money laundering.
“Lists of people are being circulated,” said Brandon Sample, a Vermont lawyer who specializes in presidential pardons and has submitted several names of people to be considered. Among them is Russell Bradley Marks, 57, who has been imprisoned after pleading guilty in 1992 on a cocaine-related conviction for which he was given a mandatory life sentence.
The end of any presidential administration is a time for intense lobbying related to pardons.
But in Mr. Trump’s case, it extends to his own personal and political considerations, his lingering bitterness over the Russia inquiry and his transactional approach to governing.
The sheer number of people in the president’s circle to have gotten in trouble with the law has also made the question of pardons especially fraught.
Mr. Flynn has been enmeshed in a long battle to clear himself despite his admissions that he had lied to investigators about his contacts with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition four years ago. The Justice Department had moved in the spring to withdraw the charge against him, but his case remained tied up in the courts.
In addition to Mr. Flynn, Mr. Gates and Mr. Papadopoulos, Trump aides and associates who have been convicted include Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former lawyer; Roger J. Stone Jr., his longtime friend and adviser; and Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman.
Others in the president’s circle to face federal charges include Stephen K. Bannon, his former strategist, who was indicted in August on charges of defrauding donors to a campaign to support Mr. Trump’s plans to build a wall along the border with Mexico, and Elliott Broidy, a top fund-raiser, who pleaded guilty last month in a foreign lobbying case.
Activists see a blitz of late pardons for people without political connections as a way for Mr. Trump to build on his efforts to reform the criminal justice system, including what is considered the most consequential legislation in a generation, which reduced sentences for nonviolent offenders.
Far more explosive in political terms is the possibility of pardons or commutations for allies, associates or even himself, reflecting Mr. Trump’s oft-stated belief that his presidency was undermined by law enforcement investigations, including the special counsel’s inquiry.
“The president knows how much those of us who worked for him have suffered, and I hope he takes that into consideration if and when he grants any pardons,” said Mr. Gates, who served as Mr. Trump’s deputy campaign chairman in 2016 before pleading guilty to financial fraud and lying to investigators.
Before Wednesday, Mr. Trump had granted 28 pardons, which wipe out convictions, and 16 commutations, which reduce prison sentences.
Of the actions Mr. Trump has taken, many have benefited individuals with a personal or political connection to him.
They include Mr. Stone, who had been convicted of charges brought by the special counsel, the conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza and the former Wall Street executive Michael Milken, whose bid for a pardon drew support from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
Mr. Trump also has mused about pardoning Mr. Manafort, who was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for obstructing justice and violating financial and lobbying laws, in the highest-profile of the cases brought by the special counsel.
There is open speculation about whether he might go even further in using his clemency power in his self-interest, possibly issuing pre-emptive pardons to members of his family and even himself for federal crimes.
Even if such a self-pardon were possible — scholars differ on the legality — it would not inoculate Mr. Trump against possible charges stemming from ongoing investigations into his business and finances by city and state prosecutors in New York.
The planned clemency initiative, and the lobbying that has unfolded around it, has been hindered in some ways in recent weeks by Mr. Trump’s refusal to formally concede his loss to President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Potential pardon seekers and their representatives said in interviews that they were waiting to escalate their appeals until Mr. Trump conceded, or at least signaled that he had started to come to grips with the looming end of his presidency.
“As long as they’re fighting this and there are court cases and the Electoral College hasn’t voted, it seems premature,” said Bud Cummins, a former U.S. attorney who was credited by the White House for helping persuade Mr. Trump to commute the sentence last year of one of his clients, a politically connected Arkansas businessman convicted of bribery related to Medicaid fraud.
Mr. Cummins, who was registered to lobby this year for a firm co-founded by two Trump campaign aides, said “lots of people” had approached him asking for help winning pardons from Mr. Trump. He declined to identify them.
Other potential pardon seekers and their allies are discussing a range of strategies to win over the president. They include highlighting donations to Mr. Trump, spending money at his properties, trying to hire lawyers or lobbyists seen as close to him and emphasizing business connections that could help Mr. Trump after he leaves office.
Mr. Gates, who received a 45-day jail sentence after cooperating with investigators, published a book last month accusing the special counsel’s team of using devious strong-arm tactics to pursue Mr. Trump and his allies. Mr. Gates conceded that his criticism of the investigation could potentially help with a pardon, but he added that “my motivation in writing the book was not to seek a pardon; it was to expose the truth about the Russia investigation.”
Mr. Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. and served 12 days in jail, has also been very public in his embrace of Mr. Trump. He appeared at the Trump National Doral resort in Florida last month for a conference of conservative activists, where he promoted his book, “Deep State Target: How I Got Caught in the Cross Hairs of the Plot to Bring Down President Trump.”
In an interview, he said his support for Mr. Trump was not inspired by his pursuit of a pardon, adding that he did not expect he would get one but still hoped it would happen.
“Of course I would be honored to be pardoned,” Mr. Papadopoulos said.
Others seeking creative ways to forge ties to the president include Joseph Maldonado-Passage, the former Oklahoma zoo owner who is better known as Joe Exotic. His representatives have been running a carefully orchestrated campaign to try to persuade Mr. Trump to pardon Mr. Maldonado-Passage, who is one year into a 22-year sentence for trying to hire a hit man to kill an animal-rights activist.
They have focused on getting Mr. Trump’s attention through appeals to Donald Trump Jr. and Mr. Kushner, appearances on Fox News and a visit to the Trump International Hotel in Washington where, one organizer said, they ran up a tab of about $ 10,000 to try to get Mr. Trump’s attention.
Mr. Dershowitz is exploring applying for pardons on behalf of Greg E. Lindberg, a North Carolina businessman who was sentenced in August to more than seven years in prison for his role in a bribery scheme that shook the state’s Republican Party, and Eliyahu Weinstein, a New Jersey man sentenced to more than 20 years in prison for a real estate Ponzi scheme.
Mr. Dershowitz said he had not approached Mr. Trump about either case, though he recalled an earlier conversation in which he explained his general philosophy on the importance of pardons to Mr. Trump.
The president, Mr. Dershowitz said, “was very interested in the concept of the pardon power being more than just clemency, but being part of the system of checks and balances for excessive legislative or judicial actions.”
Let’s block ads! (Why?)
, NYT > U.S. > Politics reports