Trump Uses Pardons To Reward His Friends And Justify His Own Actions

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February 20, 2020 11:15 a.m.

The President’s latest wave of pardons on Tuesday — primarily benefiting, as usual, his political allies — was a little more on the nose than normal. Why? Because of Paul Pogue. The construction company owner served three years of probation for tax fraud, having underpaid the government $473,000.

Just months ago, Pogue’s family did something they’d never done before: Donate huge sums to the President’s reelection effort. Pogue’s son and daughter-in-law donated more than $200,000 to the Trump Victory Committee, $150,000 to the RNC, and thousands more directly to Trump’s campaign.

But that’s not all: The White House advertised that Pogue’s pardon was endorsed by former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

In all, per The Philadelphia Inquirer’s count, the Pogue family donated $11,000 to Santorum’s 2016 presidential campaign. And Pogue himself also donated $10,000 to Paxton’s legal defense fund in 2016, the Dallas Morning News noted at the time, and supported the candidacy of Paxton’s wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton.

But Pogue’s hardly the only example of this kind of favor-trading: Trump’s pardon record is saturated with them.

“Junk Bond King” Michael Milken also got a pardon Wednesday for his decades-old securities fraud charge. Milken has a close relationship with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who got a free ride on Milken’s jet in 2019 and, the year prior, personally ordered that land belonging to Milken be designated a tax-advantaged “opportunity zone.”

Supporters of Milken’s pardon, the group Allied Progress calculated, have collectively donated nearly $40 million to Trump campaign committee’s and the President’s inaugural committee.

Other Trump pardonees have made their case on Fox News, including former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), whose wife Patti has appeared numerous times on the network, and Dinesh D’Souza, who’s played GOP attack dog on the network for years. Others, including Scooter Libby and Sholom Rubashkin, were represented by the Fox-regular, Trump-friendly lawyers Victoria Toensing and Alan Dershowtiz, respectively. Media Matters has an extensive rundown of “Trump’s Fox News pardon pipeline” here.

Fox News’ influence on Trump’s pardon list is so pronounced the network seems a bit self-conscious about it: After I published an article Tuesday on the most recent pardon recipients and noted the endorsements of a couple of Fox contributors, a Fox spokesperson asked me to “correct” the article by noting that two CNN contributors, Santorum and Van Jones, had also endorsed certain pardons.

Trump has also used pardons for his own political benefit, using recipients to send a message about himself.

For example, two months before he pardoned Kristian Mark Saucier, the Navy sailor who served time for taking pictures of classified areas inside a submarine, Trump used Saucier’s case to attack Hillary Clinton and the “deep state.”

“She put Classified Passwords into the hands of foreign agents,” he’d tweeted just a couple months earlier of Clinton.  “Remember sailors pictures on submarine? Jail! Deep State Justice Dept must finally act?”

The same went for Joe Arpaio, vilified for the same anti-immigrant policies Trump promotes, and the several accused war criminals the President pardoned. They didn’t “kill their families,” as Trump once proposed of Islamic State militants, but erasing the charges against them did bolster Trump’s favored “gloves off” narrative of his duties as commander-in-chief.

Yet more may be on the way: Trump reported dangled pardons for border agents who turn away asylum-seekers, and he hasn’t ruled one out yet for buddies Roger Stone and Michael Flynn; the White House advertised that Flynn’s lawyer Sidney Powell endorsed Tuesday’s pardon for former NYPD chief Bernard Kerik.

On Wednesday, the White House denied a claim from the lawyer for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who asserted that former Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), speaking on Trump’s behalf, offered Assange a pardon if Assange denied that Russia provided him stolen Democratic emails in 2016.

Here’s what else is going on in the swamp:

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