The push to put Trump back in the White House is getting a boost from people he pardoned before leaving



CNN
 — 

If not for a pardon from Donald Trump in the final weeks of his presidency, Paul Manafort might still be serving a federal sentence. Instead, Trump’s former campaign manager is a free man – and free to help his old boss get back to the White House.

Manafort is in discussions to assist the Republican National Convention this summer where Trump will officially become the party’s presidential nominee once again, CNN and other outlets reported this week. His anticipated involvement would make Manafort the latest beneficiary of clemency under Trump to assist the former president’s political comeback.

He is far from the first.

More than a dozen people pardoned of their crimes or who had their sentences commuted by Trump have since aided the former president as he seeks a return to power. Some have donated their considerable wealth to the cause. A handful endure on the periphery of his political operation as purveyors of Trump’s false conspiracies about the 2020 election, like former top adviser Steve Bannon. Others are outspoken backers with considerable followings, such as rapper Kodak Black, conservative writer and Trump biographer Conrad Black and Phil Lyman, a former US representative now running for Utah governor.

One GOP consultant who received a pardon, John Tate, made more than $70,000 last year consulting for Trump’s presidential campaign, federal records show.

It is remarkable for a presidential candidate to benefit from the people whom he granted legal forgiveness — a reality that is reflective of both the unprecedented nature of Trump’s third White House bid and his norm-shattering use of presidential authority while in office. As president, Trump exercised his clemency powers unlike any of his predecessors, freeing and forgiving longtime political allies, supporters, celebrities, military figures and others with personal ties to him and his administration.

Jeffrey Crouch, an expert on executive clemency at American University, called it a “perfect storm” of highly unusual circumstances that “raise questions about favoritism and abuse of power that normally are not issues for presidential aspirants.”

“It’s yet another wrinkle in an already very complicated legal and political landscape for Trump’s 2024 presidential bid,” Crouch, who wrote “The Presidential Pardon Power,” said.

Trump’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

As he seeks another four years in office, Trump is once again promising extraordinary use of his pardon powers. He has vowed to free those arrested in the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol – potentially hundreds of people serving prison sentences – as he makes denialism of the bloody riots central to his campaign.

Trump’s candidacy itself has also resurfaced debates over whether a president could pardon himself. The country may need to confront this question if the former president’s legal troubles remain unresolved before Election Day, as Trump faces 44 charges across two federal indictments. His pardon protections, though, would not extend to additional state charges he faces in separate indictments brought by prosecutors in Georgia and New York.

Voting near his residence in Palm Beach on Tuesday, Trump contended he didn’t have any knowledge of Manafort’s potential role at his Milwaukee nominating convention, but he added: “He was another person who was treated badly and he was a patriot but we’ll see what happens with that.” The Washington Post first reported the discussions to get Manafort involved.

Manafort, a lobbyist who became chairman of Trump’s first presidential campaign, was one of the highest-profile arrests in special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. He was convicted in 2018 of defrauding banks and the government, and of failing to pay taxes on millions of dollars in income he had earned from Ukrainian political consulting. He later faced additional punishment for obstruction of justice.

Originally sentenced to 7.5 years in prison in 2019, Manafort was granted home confinement in April 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. In December, a month after losing reelection, Trump pardoned Manafort.

Trump issued 237 acts of clemency during his four-year term – the majority coming after the 2020 election, including 143 during his last hours in office. Though Trump issued fewer pardons than many of his modern predecessors, when he did, he largely operated outside the Office of the Pardon Attorney, a nonpartisan agency inside the Department of Justice that assess requests for executive clemency. The lack of protocols often led petitioners and their supporters to lobby Trump directly or make their case to his son-in-law Jared Kushner, chief of staff Mark Meadows or the White House counsel.

Past presidents have certainly flexed their considerable clemency authority to benefit political allies and not without controversy. President Gerald Ford famously pardoned Richard Nixon a month after his predecessor resigned in disgrace. President George W. Bush commuted the sentence of Scooter Libby, the former chief of staff to his vice president Dick Cheney convicted of obstructing a federal investigation. President Bill Clinton issued a pardon for Marc Rich, who fled the country to avoid facing charges for tax evasion. Rich’s ex-wife was a donor to Clinton’s presidential library.

But even against that history, Trump’s pardons stood out, Crouch said.

“What is unusual is how many of Trump’s clemency grants went to well-known Republicans, military figures, and celebrities rather than average, unknown people,” he said.

In the final months of his presidency, after losing the 2020 election to President Joe Biden, Trump frequently told his aides that he had planned to be liberal with his pardons and asked friends and loyalists who they thought he should pardon, multiple sources familiar with the conversations told CNN at the time. Trump, at the time, delighted in his ability to issue sweeping pardons – and viewed it as an opportunity to further build goodwill with those who had been loyal to him throughout his time in office.

Other stalwart Trump allies beside Manafort to receive a pardon included: veteran Republican operative Roger Stone, who was also indicted by Mueller and convicted of multiple crimes; Bannon, who had pleaded not guilty to charges he defrauded donors in a “We Build the Wall” online fundraising campaign; and Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser charged with lying to the FBI.

Without Trump’s intervention, it’s possible all four could have spent the 2024 election cycle serving federal punishments. Stone in 2020 was sentenced to three years in prison and two years of supervised release. Trump pardoned Bannon before he went to trial, but his three co-defendants last year received prison sentences ranging from three to five years. Flynn pleaded guilty but was never sentenced and faced a maximum of five years in prison.

Instead, they’re now key players in the effort to reelect Trump, emerging as some of his most ardent defenders to their sizable audiences. Stone remains an outspoken supporter of his longtime friend, trafficking in unsavory rumors about Trump’s political opponents on social media and hosting a radio show on a conservative New York station that debuted with a Trump appearance. He is also a regular at Mar-a-Lago and walked out with Trump’s campaign staff on Super Tuesday for the former president’s victory speech.

Bannon’s War Room podcast serves as a clarion call to Trump supporters to mobilize around the 2024 election by regularly spreading misinformation about the last one. Flynn has toured the country in recent years, appearing at rallies where he, too, shares election conspiracies. Calling into one of the events last year, Trump told Flynn: “We’re going to bring you back.”

Dinesh D’Souza, one of Trump’s earlier pardons, has championed the former president’s causes as well through his own podcast and other media ventures. Most notably, D’Souza – who in 2014 pleaded guilty to making illegal campaign contributions – created “2000 Mules,” a misleadingly edited and conspiratorial film about the 2020 election that has animated Trump’s opposition to voting by mail. Trump hosted a screening of the film at Mar-a-Lago in 2022.

And then there’s disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a former contestant of Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice reality television show who was freed by the former president in early 2020. Blagojevich recently defended Trump’s courtroom antics in an interview with Politico, calling the former president “brave” while lauding his “chutzpah.”

Many pardoned by Trump had long ago served their time and are now aiding Trump from the other side of their amnesty. Tate was convicted in 2014 along with two other senior leaders on Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign on charges stemming from a bribery plot to secure an Iowa state senator’s endorsement. His sentence, issued in 2016, included six months of home confinement, two years of probation and community service.

CNN reached out to Tate through an email address on the website of his consulting firm, but he did not respond.

Trump also effectively cleared the name of Charles Kushner, the father of his son-in-law who in the mid-2000s served prison time after he pleaded guilty to 16 counts of tax evasion, one count of retaliating against a federal witness – his brother-in-law – and another count of lying to the Federal Election Commission.

Last June, Kushner gave $1 million to Make America Great Again, Inc., one of the largest single contributions to the pro-Trump super PAC so far. Meanwhile, Trump-pardoned New York real estate executive Alex Adjmi donated $100,000 to MAGA Inc., as did the son and daughter-in-law of Paul Pogue, a former construction executive from Texas included in Trump’s last-minute pardons. Pogue and his wife also contributed $6,600 to a Trump-affiliated campaign committee.

Already, there is intrigue around the fate of another Trump ally, Peter Navarro. An ex-White House aide for Trump, Navarro recently reported to federal prison after he refused to comply with a subpoena from the House Select Committee that investigated the January 6 attack.

Trump on Tuesday wouldn’t say if he intends to pardon Navarro if he returns to the White House. But his praise for his former aide echoed words he used to describe Manafort.

“Good man. He was treated very unfairly,” Trump said. “A great patriot.”

CNN’s Alayna Treene, Kristen Holmes and Fredreka Schouten contributed to this report.


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