Hours after pardoning a group of war criminals and political allies, President Donald Trump issued another full slate of pardons to loyalists who had been convicted of serious felonies, including his former campaign manager Paul Manafort, and his son-in-law's father, real estate developer Charles Kushner.
Manafort, 71, had served around two years of a seven-year sentence for numerous fraud charges stemming from the Mueller investigation. Though the White House statement on the pardon glosses over those crimes, resembling a tweet from Trump: "As a result of blatant prosecutorial overreach, Mr. Manafort has endured years of unfair treatment and is one of the most prominent victims of what has been revealed to be perhaps the greatest witch hunt in American history."
In 2005, Kushner, 66, pleaded guilty to multiple counts of tax evasion, witness tampering, and making illegal campaign contributions in a plea agreement secured by then-U.S. Attorney Chris Christie. Kushner also hired a sex worker to seduce his brother-in-law, and sent a videotape of the encounter to his sister, who was cooperating with the investigation. Kushner served a two-year prison sentence.
Trump also granted a full pardon to Roger Stone, a longtime self-professed political dirty trickster whose sentence he commuted earlier this year. Stone, 68, had been sentenced to 40 months in prison after being convicted of lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstructing the investigation into the Trump campaign's coordination with Russia's attack on the 2016 election. Trump commuted Stone's sentence in July before he reported to prison.
The pardons of Manafort and Stone represent the culmination of what some prosecutors believe to be an orchestrated attempt by the Trump administration to obstruct the Justice Department's investigation into Russian interference into the election. According to the Times, some investigators believe that "private discussion of pardons and public statements by Mr. Trump may have compromised their ability to uncover the facts" about Stone and Manafort's involvement in the covert Russian effort to make Trump president. (For more on all of this, listen to the work of our colleagues at Trump Inc.)
Nebraska's Republican Senator Ben Sasse called Trump's pardoning of Manafort, who has been confined to his home after securing early release from prison due to the spread of COVID-19, "rotten to the core." On Wednesday, NYU Law professor and expert on criminal procedure Rachel Barkow described Trump's recent use of clemency to Gothamist as "grotesque."
"I think you're going to get ever closer to his inner circle, that's where you're gonna start to see the potential grants for family members, Giuliani, people who haven't been charged yet...I think that's all to come."
But any prospective presidential pardons for Trump's family and friends will not preclude New York prosecutors from charging them with crimes. A state bill sponsored by Long Island State Senator Todd Kaminsky and passed more than a year ago closed the "double jeopardy" loophole that would have prevented New York law enforcement from proceeding with their cases.
"I think it’s a complete undermining of our justice system, and I think it really stinks," Kaminsky told Gothamist, commenting on the recent group of pardons. "It reeks of corruption and self-dealing and there’s a pattern that seems quite obvious. If you cooperated with Mueller, you didn't get help, and if you stood with the president and didn’t cooperate, you’d be taken care of. It’s crazy that I'm saying this about the president of the United States, but that's how the head of a criminal organization works."
So far, Kaminsky's law has not been tested. Before it was passed, the Manhattan DA Cy Vance Jr. attempted to charge Manafort with mortgage fraud and lying on his tax returns, but a federal judge ruled that it would undermine the old double jeopardy standard.
Vance's office said they were appealing that ruling.
"This action underscores the urgent need to hold Mr. Manafort accountable for his crimes against the People of New York as alleged in our indictment, and we will continue to pursue our appellate remedies," said Danny Frost, a spokesperson for Vance, on Trump's pardon.
Federal investigators are reportedly considering whether to request emails from Trump's attorney, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Trump is also being investigated by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance's office (you can read their latest court filing here).
Kaminsky said that he thought that it would be unwise to use a pre-emptive presidential pardon in a defense in state court.
"If anything, the Supreme Court has said that accepting a pardon is somewhat of an admittance of guilt. So if you took a pardon, that raises the question of: well, what’d you do?"
He added, "The rule of law matters in this country, and in this state, and the president's power, shouldn't be used to undermine it. I look forward to seeing a just result, after seeing injustice in the headlines day after day."