Again and again in Donald Trump’s Washington, it’s about who you know.
That was the case Wednesday night with the President’s latest wave of pardons as he prepares to leave the White House. Most everyone on the list either had a connection to the Big Man themselves or friends in high places willing to make their case.
In that sense, Wednesday’s list was much the same as Tuesday’s before it, accompanied by a White House statement chock full of Republican congressmen and television stars vouching for their friends or favored causes.
But as Trump progressed toward Christmas, the names got bigger: Charles Kushner, father of Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared; former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and key confidante Roger Stone, both Russia probe cases; Margaret Hunter, whose husband former Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) Trump had pardoned the day prior.
Even after those names, the Trumpian power players made themselves known as the list progressed.
Jesse Benton and John Tate, for example, were found guilty in 2016 of a scheme to funnel $73,000 to an Iowa state senator in 2012 in exchange for the senator endorsing their then-boss, the then-congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul (R-TX). But the ties don’t end there: Benton also served as chief strategist of Great America PAC, the pro-Trump group, and worked for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) 2014 reelection campaign and for a super PAC supporting Ron’s son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), CNN reported.
The younger Paul is listed by the White House as one of two supporters of Benton and Tate’s pardon.
Mary Ballard McCarty, who was pardoned for an honest services fraud conviction, is a former Palm Beach County, Florida commissioner and, as Law&Crime noted, the sister of Trump mega-fundraiser and lobbyist Brian Ballard.
McCarty’s pardon was endorsed by Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy and Pam Bondi, the former Florida Attorney General and Trump impeachment defense lawyer who has worked as a lobbyist for… yes, Ballard Partners, Ballard’s lobbying firm.
Bondi also backed the pardon for the deep-pocketed donor James Kassouf, who pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return in 1989. She wasn’t alone. Also in Kassouf’s corner: Rep.-elect Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Rep. David Joyce (R-OH), and the well-known Trump surrogate Pastor Darrell Scott.
A few more big names lined up behind former Rep. Mark Siljander (R-MI), who pleaded guilty in 2010 to acting as an unregistered foreign agent and obstructing justice. Namesake of the “Siljander Amendment,” which prohibited the use of government funds to lobby for abortions, Siljander’s pardon was backed by former Attorney General Edwin, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) among others.
Also on Wednesday night’s list was a trio of former law enforcement officers found to have deprived people of their civil rights. Stephanie Mohr, a former K9 police officer, was found to have released her dog on a homeless man despite his surrender. Gary Brugman, a former Border Patrol agent, kicked an undocumented man to the ground during an arrest. Joseph Occhipinti, who worked for the precursor to ICE, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, illegally searched bodegas in New York City.
Importantly, all of the officers subsequently earned sympathetic allies in conservative media and politics. Brugman’s pardon was supported by Texas’ lieutenant governor, both its U.S. senators, and seven members of Congress, not to mention a menu of conservative personalities like Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs and former pardon recipient himself Bernie Kerik.
Occhipinti had the backing of Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ), among others, and Mohr was endorsed by the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund and the Fraternal Order of Police — and supported by months of appearances on conservatives outlets like OANN and Newsmax.