Trump’s Last-Day Pardon List Shows A Soft Spot For Those Accused Of Public Corruption

officespace2/112102 --  Member-elect Rick Renzi, R-Ariz., right,is congratulated after he drew number 4 in the freshmen member room selection by member-elect Katherine Harris staffer, Dan Berger, who drew number 1.
UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 21: Member-elect Rick Renzi, R-Ariz., right,is congratulated after he drew number 4 in the freshmen member room selection by member-elect Katherine Harris staffer, Dan Berger, who drew numbe... UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 21: Member-elect Rick Renzi, R-Ariz., right,is congratulated after he drew number 4 in the freshmen member room selection by member-elect Katherine Harris staffer, Dan Berger, who drew number 1. (Photo By Tom Williams/Roll Call/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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January 20, 2021 11:46 a.m.

President Donald Trump has always had a bit of a soft spot for public corruption. 

From Duncan Hunter to Chris Collins to Steve Stockman, he’s been quite willing to use his clemency powers to the benefit of politicians who have abused the public’s trust. Tuesday’s lengthy list of last-minute clemencies was no different.

Trump — who also rescinded his own policy of lobbying restrictions for former administration officials Wednesday — forgave corruption cases big and small, Republican and Democrat in his last few hours in office. 

The very namesake of TPM’s own annual corruption award, Randy “Duke” Cunningham, was among those to receive the presidential parting gift. Cunningham maintained a literal “bribe menu” to inform would-be patrons of his pricing.

On the other hand, the White House noted Wednesday, “Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich strongly supports this pardon.” That was, apparently, enough. 

Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, a Democrat, was also on the list. Kilpatrick was sentenced to 28 years in prison in 2013 on charges ranging from racketeering to bribery and fraud. 

As the FBI put it at the time, “Kilpatrick and [contractor friend Bobby] Ferguson established a ‘pay to play’ system that made breaking the law standard operating procedure. Kilpatrick extorted city vendors, rigged bids, and took bribes. He used funds from non-profit civic organizations to line his pockets and those of his family. And he was unabashed about it.” 

But the former mayor also wrote President Trump a swooning letter from prison in 2019, asking for a commutation and buttering Trump up.

“You have vociferously exposed the treacherous and calculating schemes of our media and government that have worked to crush families, communities, and even Truth itself,” Kilpatrick wrote. “Thank you for standing up, speaking out, and exposing this wickedness.”

The reel of Trump’s brothers in arms went on: Elliot Broidy, the major Trump fundraiser and 2016 inauguration official, pleaded guilty in October to a conspiracy charge related to his efforts to covertly influence the Trump administration on behalf of foreign interest, in violation of lobbying laws. 

But in addition to the massive amount of influence Broidy wielded in Republican circles and the White House, he’s also got a personal connection to Trump: Michael Cohen, when he was Trump’s attorney, negotiated a hush money settlement between Broidy and Shera Bechard, a former playboy playmate who claimed she was pregnant with Broidy’s child. Broidy resigned as deputy finance chairman of the Republican Party when details became public. 

“Mr. Broidy is well known for his numerous philanthropic efforts,” the White House said.

But that’s just the start of Trump’s latest round of public corruption clemencies: Rick Renzi, the former Arizona congressman who was convicted 17 of 32 counts including extortion and wire fraud, wrote to Trump in 2019 calling the case against him a “witch hunt.” 

Paul Erickson, the conservative operative, gun rights advocate and former boyfriend of Maria Butina, pleaded guilty in 2019 to wire fraud and money laundering. The White House blamed the “hoax” Russia investigation for the scrutiny Erickson received for his criminal acts. 

“Mr. Erickson’s conviction was based off the Russian collusion hoax,” the White House wrote, adding: “This pardon helps right the wrongs of what has been revealed to be perhaps the greatest witch hunt in American History.” 

Other corrupt clemency recipients had no ties to the Russia probe — but plenty of ties to Trump. Ed Henry, who was sentenced to two years’ probation in 2019 for his role in a Medicare fraud scheme, was the Alabama state chairman of Trump’s campaign in 2016. He late came to the defense of Trump’s chosen senate candidate in Alabama, Roy Moore, after revelations that Moore had preyed on teenage girls as a middle-aged man. Henry called the accusations “disingenuous.” 

Todd Boulanger, the first name on the White House clemency list, was a bit of a throwback: The Jack Abramoff crony, who pleaded guilty in 2009 to honest services fraud, swayed legislative staffers with expensive meals, all-expenses-paid travel, and tens of thousands of dollars of tickets to concerts and sporting events. 

“Mr. Boulanger is known as a model member of his community,” the White House said.

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