- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 18, 2020

President Trump went on a post-impeachment clemency spree Tuesday, commuting the sentence of impeached former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, and pardoning former New York Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik, financier Michael Milken and former San Francisco 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo Jr., among others.

In reducing the sentence for Blagojevich, a Democrat who had been convicted of trying to sell the Senate seat of President-elect Barack Obama in 2009, the president raised doubts about the former U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case in Illinois, Patrick Fitzgerald. He is a close friend of former FBI Director James B. Comey, who launched the Russia probe against Trump campaign officials.

“It was a prosecution by the same people — Comey, [Fitzgerald] — the same group,” Mr. Trump told reporters.

Blagojevich had served about eight years of a 14-year prison term for corruption. The prosecutor had accused him of auctioning the Senate seat “to the highest bidder.”

The president, who created a furor at the Justice Department last week by criticizing the recommended prison sentence for longtime friend Roger Stone, said the sentence for Blagojevich was “ridiculous.”

“Many people disagree with the sentence,” Mr. Trump said. “He served eight years in jail. That’s a long time.”

Blagojevich appeared on Mr. Trump’s hit TV show, “Celebrity Apprentice,” although the president said he doesn’t know the former governor well.

Common Cause Illinois Executive Director Jay Young criticized the move, saying although “Blagojevich will get to walk free, Illinois is still being held prisoner to the consequences of his long record of corruption, bribery, and abuse of power.”

“President Trump’s commutation of Blagojevich’s sentence is the latest action by a lawless president to undermine ethics and accountability in our government,” he said. “This decision is wrong and deprives the people of Illinois the justice they deserve. After consistently ignoring our nation’s ethics norms and laws for the last three years, President Trump has now chosen to side with the long line of Illinois politicians that have been imprisoned or had their careers ended due to corruption.”

But FreedomWorks President Adam Brandon noted that several of the pardons were for people who have dedicated their lives, post incarceration, to criminal justice reform.

“President Trump is right to use this power to advance smart-on-crime causes,” he said. “We are pleased to see this administration continuing its work on criminal justice reform, by recognizing and vindicating many Americans who have paid their debts to society for past mistakes.”

Mr. Trump has now granted 36 clemency petitions in his first term. President Obama granted 23 in his first term, and President Clinton granted 56.

In Mr. Obama’s second term, he embarked on an aggressive clemency program primarily for drug offenders. He commuted the sentences of more than 1,600 people in his final two years in office.

Mr. Clinton infamously issued 140 pardons on his last day in office, including one for tax evasion fugitive Marc Rich, whose wife had donated large sums to the Clinton presidential library and Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaign. He also had commuted the sentences for 16 members of FALN, a Puerto Rican paramilitary organization that set off 120 bombs in the U.S.

Milken had pleaded guilty in 1990 to six counts of securities and tax violations. The president said Milken, the former “junk bond king” who has become known for his philanthropy, has “done an incredible job for the world with all of his research on cancer.”

“He suffered greatly,” the president said. “He paid a big price, paid a very tough price. He’s done an incredible job.”

The White House suggested Milken was the target of an overzealous prosecution. In its statement on the pardon, the White House said Milken in 1989 “was charged in an indictment alleging that some of his innovative financing mechanisms were in fact criminal schemes.”

“The charges filed against Mr. Milken were truly novel,” the White House said. “In fact, one of the lead prosecutors later admitted that Mr. Milken had been charged with numerous technical offenses and regulatory violations that had never before been charged as crimes.”

He served two years in prison and was fined $600 million.

Kerik was appointed police commissioner in 2000 by then-New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, now the president’s personal lawyer. He had pleaded guilty in 2009 to eight federal charges, including tax fraud and false statements, and was sentenced to four years in federal prison.

Mr. Trump also granted a full pardon for DeBartolo in a corruption case in the 1990s that targeted former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards. DeBartolo pleaded guilty to a charge of failing to report a felony, was fined $1 million and placed on two years of probation in return for his testimony against Edwards. Edwards was convicted of trying to extort $400,000 from DeBartolo to gain a river boat casino license.

And the president pardoned David Safavian, a top former official in the George W. Bush administration, who pleaded guilty to lying about his connections to corrupt former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The White House said Safavian “has dedicated his life to criminal justice reform after serving nearly a year in prison.” He is an advocate of the First Step Act signed by Mr. Trump, which provides prisoners with a second chance through rehabilitative programs and other initiatives.

Six others received clemency from Mr. Trump on Tuesday.

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