Steve Bannon. Picture: REUTERS/ANDREW KELLY
Steve Bannon. Picture: REUTERS/ANDREW KELLY

Washington — US President Donald Trump granted clemency to dozens of people on Wednesday, including his former strategist, Steve Bannon, the rapper Lil Wayne and former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, in one of his final official acts as president.

A list of pardons and commutations the White House released early on Wednesday, Trump’s last day in office, did not include the president himself. Trump had discussed preemptively pardoning himself and associates, but some advisers had cautioned the president against what would have been an unprecedented action, according to people familiar with the matter.

The president pardoned 73 people and commuted the sentences of 70. Many are relatively little-known felons, but the list includes a number of celebrities, former legislators, executives and people connected to the president, his family or members of Congress.

While Trump has drawn criticism for extending pardons to political allies, including former campaign chief Paul Manafort and former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, he’s issued fewer pardons than other recent presidents.

According to justice department statistics, Trump’s issued 116 pardons, compared to the 212 granted by Barack Obama, 189 granted by George W Bush and 396 granted by Bill Clinton, who also extended clemency to political allies. Notably, Clinton pardoned Marc Rich, a hedge fund manager and Democratic donor, on his final day in office.

Trump didn’t grant clemency to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange or former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden. But Trump was still polling people close to him, as late as Tuesday, about whether he should.

Trump spoke to Bannon on Tuesday. People familiar with the pardon planning said on Monday that clemency for the former White House strategist, who was once estranged from the president, wasn’t being prepared. Trump ordered it at the last minute, the people said.

Trump granted a pardon to the rapper Dwayne Carter, known as Lil Wayne, who pleaded guilty to a federal gun charge in 2020, and commuted the sentence of the rapper Bill Kapri, known as Kodak Black, who is serving time for falsifying paperwork to obtain a firearm.

He pardoned a former top fundraiser for the Republican
Party, Elliott Broidy, who pleaded guilty in October to illegally lobbying on behalf of a Malaysian businessperson seeking to end a federal investigation into the 1MDB scandal.

Other clemency grants include:

  • A commutation for Sholam Weiss, who is believed to be serving the longest white-collar sentence in US history, 835 years, for money laundering and other charges stemming from the failure of the National Heritage Life Insurance Co. He fled while on bail and partied with prostitutes at a luxury hotel before the authorities tracked him down in Austria. “He regrets doing that,” Weiss’s nephew, Hershy Marton, said in an interview in December.
  • A pardon for Bannon, who was among a group of four Trump supporters accused in 2020 of using money donated to the supposedly nonprofit “We Build The Wall” campaign for personal gain. Despite portraying the group as a volunteer effort, Bannon received more than $1m and used some of it to pay personal expenses, prosecutors said. Bannon denied the charges.
  • A pardon for Broidy, a fundraiser for both Trump and the Republican National Committee in 2016. Fugitive businessperson Jho Low initially paid $6m to Broidy and promised $75m more if he succeeded in persuading the justice department to walk away from its civil forfeiture case. The back-channel efforts failed and Low was indicted in 2018 on charges of conspiring to launder billions of dollars embezzled from 1MDB. He has denied wrongdoing.
  • A commutation for Kilpatrick, who was convicted in 2013 on 24 counts of racketeering conspiracy, extortion, bribery and tax evasion and sentenced to 28 years in prison. He was mayor of Detroit from 2002 to 2008; prosecutors alleged his corruption contributed to the city’s bankruptcy five years after he left office.
  • A commutation for Salomon Melgen, a Palm Beach retinologist who was serving a 17-year sentence for Medicare fraud after billing the government to treat people for eye disease they didn’t have. Melgen’s commutation was supported by Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, a Democrat whom prosecutors alleged pressured federal agencies to help Melgen after receiving gifts and campaign contributions. Charges against Menendez were eventually dropped after a New Jersey jury was unable to reach a verdict.
  • A pardon for former Google executive Anthony Levandowski, an autonomous driving engineer who was ordered in August to spend 18 months in prison for stealing trade secrets from Google as he defected to Uber Technologies, in one of the highest-profile criminal cases to hit Silicon Valley.
  • A conditional pardon to Duke Cunningham, a former congressman from California, who in 2005 plead guilty to bribery and other charges arising out of the scandal revolving around disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Cunningham, a Republican, was released from prison in 2013.
  • A pardon to Todd Boulanger, who had worked with Abramoff and pleaded guilty to conspiring to “commit honest services fraud”. He admitted to providing to public officials “all-expenses-paid travel, tens of thousands of dollars-worth of tickets to professional sporting events, concerts and other events, and frequent and expensive meals and drinks at Washington, DC-area restaurants and bars,” according to a 2009 justice department media release.
  • A pardon for former Representative Rick Renzi, an Arizona Republican who served three years in prison on corruption, money-laundering and other charges. He was convicted in 2013 of using his congressional seat to make companies buy his former business associate’s land so the associate could repay a debt to Renzi. Prosecutors also said he looted a family insurance business to help pay for his 2002 campaign.
  • A pardon for Aviem Sella, an Israeli indicted for espionage in connection with the Jonathan Pollard affair. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu requested Sella’s pardon, the White House said in its statement.
  • A pardon for former InterMune CEO W Scott Harkonen, who was convicted in 2009 of issuing a fraudulent media release touting a drug’s success against a fatal lung disease. Harkonen had unsuccessfully argued his case all the way to the Supreme Court, which rejected his appeal in 2013.
  • A pardon to Paul Erickson, a conservative political activist sentenced in July to seven years in prison following his conviction on fraud and money-laundering charges. He was the boyfriend of Maria Butina, a Russian woman who sought to curry favour with Republican and gun-rights groups and later pleaded guilty to failing to register as a foreign agent.
  • A pardon for Ken Kurson, a former business associate of Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner. Prosecutors have charged Kurson with cyber stalking related to his 2015 divorce. The White House claimed the criminal investigation “only began because Mr Kurson was nominated to a role within the Trump administration”.

Bloomberg

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