President Trump on Tuesday night used his last dregs of presidential power to benefit friends and allies, granting last-minute clemency to 143 people, including former White House strategist Steve Bannon.
According to a report from the Washington Post, Trump had been indecisive about whether or not to pardon Bannon, reportedly spending part of the day waffling about whether he should pardon his former adviser who was charged last year with defrauding $25 million from donors to a charity established to pay for building a wall along the southern U.S.-Mexico border.
Aides told the Post that Trump whittled away the hours weighing Bannon’s help to him and potential ability to help him going forward against Bannon’s perceived disloyalty at times.
Many of those who received clemency unsurprisingly had the backing of a Trump ally, such as former adviser Kellyanne Conway, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich or Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), who were among a group listed as supporting various pardons in the White House statement announcing the grants of clemency.
Officials told the Post that Trump appeared to distract himself from his election loss by focusing on drawn out discussions over who deserved clemency. Many of his recommendations during that time came from relatives, including his daughter Ivanka Trump, her husband Jared Kushner. Alice Johnson, the woman whose own sentence for a drug conviction was commuted by Trump in 2018 after celebrity Kim Kardashian West lobbied on her behalf, also reportedly offered suggestions on clemency.
Since his first pardon of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio in 2017, Trump has repeatedly used his presidential pardon power to reward those who do his bidding. The Post pointed out that Trump has blown past the Justice Department process where roughly 14,000 people have pending pardon applications to instead hand out political favors. Indeed, many of his pardons and commutations on Tuesday went to friends who neither applied through the Justice Department nor met its guidelines.
Trump extended a pardon to GOP megadonor Elliott Broidy who helped raise millions for his campaign. Broidy, who later became the Republican National Committee’s national deputy finance chairman pleaded guilty in October to conspiring to violate foreign lobbying law in a campaign to sway the Trump administration on behalf of Malaysian and Chinese interests.
Trump did not try to extend preemptive pardons to himself or his children after being dissuaded from the unprecedented move by White House counsel Pat Cipollone who suggested it might give the appearance of an admission of guilt.