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Trump pardons Charles Kushner, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone in latest wave of clemency grants

President Trump waves as he boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on Dec. 23, 2020. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

President Trump on Wednesday granted pardons or other clemency to another 29 people, including real estate developer Charles Kushner, his son-in-law’s father, and two former advisers who were convicted as part of the FBI’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election — once again using his executive power to benefit his allies and undermine an investigation that dogged his presidency.

With his time in office nearing its end, Trump pardoned former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was convicted in 2018 of committing financial fraud and conspiring to obstruct the investigation of his crimes, and he upgraded to a full pardon the sentence commutation he provided earlier to longtime friend Roger Stone.

Trump also pardoned Kushner, the father of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, who pleaded guilty in 2004 to having made false statements to the Federal Election Commission, and he subsequently pleaded guilty to witness tampering, and tax evasion stemming from $6 million in political contributions and gifts mischaracterized as business expenses.

At the end of most presidencies, one of the last things a president does is issue pardons. Here's how past presidents have exercised this power. (Video: Monica Rodman, Sarah Hashemi/The Washington Post)

The move came just a day after Trump granted commutations or pardons to 20 people, including three former Republican members of Congress and two others who were convicted of crimes as part of the investigation into Russia’s activities four years ago. The president also pardoned military contractors involved in the killing of unarmed civilians during the Iraq War. Routinely, Trump has avoided the normal Justice Department process for pardons, instead granting clemency to political allies and the well-connected.

Trump vowed to drain the swamp. Then he granted clemency to three former congressmen convicted of federal crimes.

Wednesday’s announcement is unlikely to be the last batch of clemency the president unleashes. Trump has told aides, advisers, allies, lawmakers and others to bring him names for consideration, according to two people who have spoken to him. Like others, they spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

“He wants to pardon people,” one of these people said. “If you have someone, now is the time.”

The move sparked blowback, mostly from Democrats, who accused him of wielding his executive authority to shield himself from possible criminal investigation.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) called for eliminating the presidential pardon power.

“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,” Murphy tweeted. “It’s time to remove the pardon power from the Constitution.”

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said, “This is rotten to the core.”

With Wednesday’s pardon of Manafort, Trump has now intervened to aid five people charged in the Russia probe, which was eventually taken over by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. The White House announcement made no secret that Trump was taking aim at that investigation; it said Manfort’s convictions were “premised on the Russian collusion hoax,” and that the pardon for Stone would “help to right the injustices he faced at the hands of the Mueller investigation.”

Grant Smith, a Stone attorney, said in a statement: “When the paperwork arrives from the Department of Justice, Mr. Stone will promptly sign the acceptance of the Presidential Pardon. He is humbled that President Trump used his Constitutional power to allow Mr. & Mrs. Stone to put this behind them and move on with their lives.”

Stone himself issued a lengthy statement attacking the case and thanking Trump for “his extraordinary act of justice.”

A Twitter account for Manafort, which appears to have been dormant for years, posted Wednesday night, “Mr. President, my family & I humbly thank you for the Presidential Pardon you bestowed on me. Words cannot fully convey how grateful we are. … You truly did ‘Make America Great Again.’ God Bless you & your family. I wish you a Merry Christmas & many good wishes for the coming years.”

In November, Trump pardoned former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his dealings with the Russian ambassador to the United States, though he later sought to take it back. In July, he commuted the sentence for Stone, who was convicted of seeking to impede a congressional investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and sentenced to 40 months in prison. And on Tuesday, he pardoned George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to his 2016 campaign who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI during its Russia investigation, and Alex van der Zwaan, a Dutch lawyer who pleaded guilty in 2018 to lying to Mueller’s team.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) tweeted, “Pardons for Paul Manafort and Roger Stone serve neither justice nor mercy. President Trump is handing out rewards to his co-conspirators and shielding his own conduct from scrutiny.”

The list of those pardoned Wednesday was eclectic, and included a former congressman convicted of acting as a foreign agent, a Prince George’s County, Md., police officer convicted of releasing her police dog to attack a man who had surrendered, and a Border Patrol agent who kicked and punched suspects whom he took into custody after a chase. On Tuesday, Trump pardoned former Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-Calif.), who pleaded guilty to using campaign funds on personal matters. On Wednesday, he pardoned Hunter’s wife, Margaret, who pleaded guilty in the case before her husband and agreed to cooperate.

Trump has drawn significant criticism for how he has used his pardon power, though one adviser said the president is unconcerned about the blowback.

“He’s just burning it all down,” this person said. The adviser said the president has also discussed pardoning Stephen K. Bannon, his former chief strategist, and Rudolph W. Giuliani, his personal lawyer, and will issue dozens more before he leaves office.

Trump grants clemency to 20 people, including three former GOP members of Congress and two men convicted in the Russia probe

Trump flew to his resort at Mar-a-Lago Wednesday, where he was greeted by hundreds of supporters along his motorcade route. The mostly unmasked supporters waved Trump flags and signs and chanted “Four more years!” One small boy had a sign that said, “We’re going to miss you.”

The practical effect of Trump’s latest move was particularly significant for Manafort, who had been facing a 7 1/2-year federal prison sentence, though he was released to home confinement in May, about two years in, over dangers posed by the coronavirus pandemic. Manafort was found guilty in federal court in Virginia in 2018 of stashing the money he made as a lobbyist from Ukrainian oligarchs overseas to avoid taxes and then committing bank fraud to keep up a lavish lifestyle when his patrons lost power. He then pleaded guilty to related charges in federal court in D.C. and pledged to cooperate with the special counsel, but a judge concluded that he lied to investigators, notably about his interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik, a longtime Manafort aide assessed by the FBI to have ties to Russian intelligence.

During the 2016 campaign, Manafort gave Kilimnik internal Trump campaign polling data; Mueller’s investigators said they were never able to determine how Kilimnik used the information.

Manafort could still face legal jeopardy from state authorities in New York, which would be outside the reach of a presidential pardon, though so far authorities there have faced an uphill battle.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance had sought to bring a mortgage fraud case against Manafort after his federal convictions, but a court dismissed it on double jeopardy grounds. Vance, though, has been taking steps to revive the effort, and Danny Frost, a spokesman for his office, said in a statement Wednesday, “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.”

Charles Kushner, who was sentenced to two years in prison, already had served his time. Among the allegations brought by prosecutors were that he paid for an unnamed individual’s private school tuition out of company accounts and declared the payments as charitable contributions on his tax returns, according to court documents. The White House cited campaign adviser Matt Schlapp’s support of Charles Kushner’s pardon, along with the support of a former U.S. attorney in Utah.

Upon his release, Charles Kushner resumed practicing real estate development, and his New Jersey-based firm manages more than 20,000 apartments in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia and Tennessee.

Jared Kushner, husband of Ivanka Trump, has long held that the prosecution against his father, led by then-U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, was unjust, despite his father’s guilty pleas. Trump has not spoken to the former New Jersey governor in several weeks, a person familiar with their relationship said, and Christie has repeatedly encouraged the president publicly to stop trying to overturn the election. Christie had no comment.

According to court documents, while Charles Kushner was under investigation for campaign contributions, he grew angry when he learned that other family members were cooperating with the probe. He paid a prostitute to seduce his brother-in-law in a New Jersey motel room, where hidden cameras had been set, and later had the tape mailed to his sister as a warning, according to the documents.

The conviction changed Jared Kushner’s trajectory, he later said, from his goal of becoming a prosecutor. “Seeing my father’s situation, I felt what happened was obviously unjust in terms of the way they pursued him,” he told a real estate magazine, the Real Deal, in 2014. “I just never wanted to be on the other side of that and cause pain to the families I was doing that to, whether right or wrong.”

Jared Kushner’s continued ownership stake in his family’s business while working in the White House repeatedly raised concerns among ethics officials and experts, particularly when the Kushner Cos. was seeking buyers and lenders for its money-losing project at 666 Fifth Avenue in New York. Brookfield Properties took over the property from the Kushners in 2018 and renamed it 660 Fifth.

Charles Kushner told the New York Times in 2018 that he would “prefer not to have a pardon” because of the publicity it would generate.

Trump also pardoned former GOP congressman Mark Siljander of Michigan who in 2010 pleaded guilty to charges of obstruction of justice and acting as a foreign agent on behalf of an Islamic charity that hired Siljander to lobby Congress to have its name removed from a list of alleged terrorist-supporting organizations. In 2012, Siljander was sentenced to a year in federal prison.

Trump similarly pardoned Stephanie Mohr, a former Maryland police officer who served 10 years in federal prison for allowing her police dog to bite and restrain a burglary suspect in 1995. The bite wound required 10 stitches on the calf of the suspect, an unarmed homeless man. A federal jury convicted Mohr, then 30, of violating his civil rights by releasing her police dog to attack him.

Trump also pardoned Gary Brugman, a former Border Patrol agent who spent 27 months in federal prison for assaulting a Mexican national who illegally crossed the U.S. border into Texas. A federal jury convicted Brugman of violating the man’s civil rights.

And he pardoned Jesse Benton, a former aide to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who backed the pardon. Benton was convicted of an attempt to buy an endorsement for Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential bid. Benton had worked for a PAC affiliated with Trump but resigned after the charges were filed.

Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.