WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump issued 26 pardons on Wednesday night, including ones to son-in-law Jared Kushner's father, and to his 2016 campaign manager Paul Manafort and Republican political operative Roger Stone.
The latest grants of executive clemency by Trump came a day after the president issued a first wave of 15 pardons, a week after the Electoral College confirmed he had lost the presidential election to Joe Biden.
"This is rotten to the core," Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said of the latest pardons, which were announced after Trump departed the White House for his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida.
Sasse's office, in issuing his six-word statement, said Trump had exercised "his constitutional power to issue pardons to another tranche of felons like Manafort and Stone who flagrantly and repeatedly violated the law and harmed Americans."
Manafort, 70, was among the first in Trump's inner circle to face charges that were brought on by special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Manafort, who was convicted of crimes related to his consulting work in Ukraine, thanked Trump on Twitter for the pardon, which comes months after he won an early release from a prison sentence of more than seven years due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
"Words cannot fully convey how grateful we are," the long-time Republican operative wrote.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a close Trump ally, had said in March 2019 that "pardoning Manafort would be seen as a political disaster for the president."
"There may come a day down the road after the politics have changed that you would want to consider an application from him like everybody else, but now would be a disaster," Graham said at the time.
The Manhattan District Attorney's office is still seeking to prosecute Manafort on allegations of mortgage fraud, conspiracy and falsifying business records in New York state.
A judge last December barred DA Cyrus Vance Jr. from pursuing the case to trial on the grounds that it would violate double jeopardy rules protecting people from being prosecuted twice for the same misconduct.
Vance is appealing that decision.
Referring to the pardon, Vance spokesman Danny Frost said: "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."
Stone was convicted in November 2019 for lying under oath to Congress about his efforts to learn in advance about WikiLeaks disclosure of emails hacked by Russians from then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign manager and the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 campaign.
Earlier this year, Trump commuted his longtime friend Stone's more than three-year sentence less than a week before the Republican operative was due to report to prison.
In July, the White House called Stone "a victim of the Russia hoax," and someone who "would be put at serious medical risk" from the coronavirus if he were imprisoned.
The real estate mogul Charles Kushner, whose son is a senior White House advisor, was sentenced to two years in prison after pleading guilty in 2004 to 18 counts of tax evasion, witness tampering and making unlawful campaign donations.
The elder Kushner, among other things, had hired a prostitute to lure his own brother-in-law William Schulder into a sexual tryst, which was secretly videotaped, and then sent to his wife, the sister of Charles Kushner. The stunt was designed to intimidate Schulder from acting as a witness in an investigation of Kushner for making illegal campaign contributions.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a key Trump ally who prosecuted Charles Kushner, said in an interview last year that Kushner had committed "one of the most loathsome, disgusting crimes that I prosecuted when I was U.S. attorney."
Christie and Jared Kushner, who is married to Trump's daughter Ivanka, have had a chilly relationship because of the prosecution.
Christie was unceremoniously dismissed as the manager of Trump's presidential transition efforts after Trump won the 2016 election, a move that Jared Kushner is widely seen as having been behind.
In announcing Kushner's pardon, the White House said, "Since completing his sentence in 2006, Mr. Kushner has been devoted to important philanthropic organizations and causes, such as Saint Barnabas Medical Center and United Cerebral Palsy."
"This record of reform and charity overshadows Mr. Kushner's conviction and 2 year sentence for preparing false tax returns, witness retaliation, and making false statements to the FEC," the White House said.
Trump also pardoned Margaret Hunter, the estranged wife of former Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who pleaded guilty to charges of misusing campaign funds for personal expenses.
Duncan Hunter, who was convicted of the same crimes, had been pardoned the night before by Trump in a first wave of pardons by the president, who refuses to concede he lost the presidential election to Biden.
Trump also commuted all or part of the criminal sentences of three people.
Two of them were Mark Shapiro and Irving Stitsky, who were each serving sentences of 85 years in prison for their key roles in a real estate-related Ponzi scheme that defrauded more than 250 people out of $23 million. The sentencing judge in Stitsky's case called him an "inveterate con man."
A statement issued by White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany announcing the commutations of the remaining prison time for Shapiro and Stitsky said their sentences were more than 10 times the years in prison offered to Shapiro in a plea deal he rejected, and almost 10 times the plea offer made to Stitsky.
McEnany's statement downplayed the severity of their crimes, saying, "Messrs. Shapiro and Stitsky founded a real estate investing firm, but hid their prior felony convictions and used a straw CEO. Due to the 2008 financial crisis, the business lost millions for its investors."
Trump on Tuesday issued pardons to 15 people, including two men convicted as part of Mueller's investigation — the 2016 campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos, and Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan — and four former Blackwater USA guards who were convicted in the killings of 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in 2007.
Others pardoned that night included ex-GOP Rep. Chris Collins of Buffalo, New York, who illegally tipped off his son to a failed drug trial in a pharmaceutical company, leading the son and others to dump stock in the company before that information became public.
Another recipient of a pardon Tuesday, was South Florida health-care facility owner Philip Esformes, who was in the early years of a 20-year prison term for what prosecutors said was "the largest health care fraud ever charged by the Department of Justice."
Before Tuesday, Trump had issued just 28 pardons — 13 fewer than his total from Tuesday and Wednesday — making him the stingiest of U.S. presidents in the modern era in terms of granting executive clemency.
But after losing the national popular vote to Biden, Trump pardoned Michael Flynn, the retired Army lieutenant general who served as his first national security advisor. Flynn pleaded guilty three years ago to lying to FBI agents about the nature of his discussions with Russia's ambassador to the United States weeks before Trump was inaugurated in January 2017.
Flynn since last year had sought to undo his guilty plea, and this year won support for that effort from the Justice Department, which in an extremely rare move asked a federal judge to dismiss the case despite Flynn's confession of his crime.
Trump's other previous pardons have included ones to financial fraudster Michael Milken; press baron Conrad Black; former Arizona sheriff Joe Arapaio, who was convicted of contempt of court; Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former advisor to ex-Vice President Dick Cheney for obstruction of justice; conservative gadfly Dinesh D'Souza, for campaign contribution fraud; and ex-New York Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik, for tax and other crimes.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said in a tweet Wednesday night: "Once one party allows the pardon power to become a tool of criminal enterprise, its danger to democracy outweighs its utility as an instrument of justice."
"It's time to remove the pardon power from the Constitution," Murphy added.
- Dan Mangan reported from New York.