WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump on Tuesday commuted the sentence of a former Illinois governor jailed for corruption, as well as pardoning a New York City police chief imprisoned for tax fraud. Pardons were also handed out to Edward DeBartolo Jr, a former owner of the San Francisco 49ers football team, and Michael Milken, a well-known financier dubbed the “junk bond king” who pleaded guilty in 1990 to securities and tax fraud.
The flurry of clemency actions – 11 in total – raised expectations that Trump is considering wielding his power in more controversial cases involving close former associates, including Republican consultant Roger Stone. The most notorious of the current crop is Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat who was removed from his governor’s post in Illinois in 2009. He was later convicted of essentially selling the senator’s seat that had been vacated when Barack Obama won the US presidency in 2008.
Trump, a Republican who has often campaigned on his claim to be fighting corruption in Washington, was vague about his reasoning for freeing Blagojevich, who was sentenced to 14 years. The president noted that he’d once performed with Blagojevich during the TV reality show “The Apprentice” and said he “seemed like a very nice person,” but added: “I don’t know him very well.”
“He served eight years in jail. He has a long time to go. Many people disagree with the sentence,” Trump told reporters. Trump pardoned Bernard Kerik, who was NYPD commissioner at the time of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Kerik pleaded guilty in 2009 to tax fraud but was released from prison in 2013. Speculation has been building that the president will issue pardons to Stone and fellow Trump associate Paul Manafort, both caught up in the wide-ranging investigation into Russia’s attempt to influence the 2016 election.
Either one would stir more controversy than Tuesday’s cases and Trump gave only a hint when asked if he is planning to pardon Stone. “I haven’t given it any thought,” he said. “But I think he’s being treated unfairly.” Discussion of the Stone pardon in particular is fueling concerns that Trump – himself the subject of multiple legal and congressional investigations – is attempting to weaken the independence of the Justice Department.
Stone was convicted in November last year of lying to Congress, tampering with a witness and obstructing the House investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to cheat in the 2016 election. The president caused a stir when he tweeted that the proposed tough sentencing of Stone was a “miscarriage of justice.” Shortly after, Attorney General Bill Barr’s Justice Department proposed a lighter sentence and the prosecutors on the case resigned in apparent protest at the intervention. Stone is due to be sentenced on Thursday. – AFP