In total, Trump has now pardoned five former campaign aides and political advisers, his son-in-law’s father and a slew of top GOP donors, former congressmen and lobbyists. He also issued a bunch of pardons with less of a personal connection that seemed aimed at currying favor with more extreme elements of the conservative movement.
Given he just dropped 143 pardons and commutations overnight, it can be a lot to sort through. The Post has the full list here. But with his list of pardons now (seemingly!) complete, I thought it worth looking at the ones from Trump’s tenure that are the most problematic because of the crime involved and/or the person’s relationship to Trump — the swampiest, if you will.
Below, they’re ranked.
1. Paul Manafort: The former Trump campaign chairman’s extensive crimes are one thing; Trump’s apparent motivation for pardoning him is another. Trump regularly credited Manafort with not cooperating with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Manafort did reach a cooperation agreement at one point, but then he voided it by lying repeatedly — with his lies pertaining specifically to a central connection between the Trump campaign and Russian interests. A Senate report recently suggested Manafort’s lies about this remained inexplicable, given they opened him up to more jail time, and said they resulted in that central tie remaining largely obscured. Trump’s pardon, though, suggests Manafort played his cards right by keeping his mouth shut, which is quite the precedent to set.
It’s also worth noting the one high-profile member of Trump’s campaign who didn’t get a pardon: Manafort’s business partner and Trump’s deputy campaign manager, Rick Gates. Gates cooperated with Mueller.
2. Roger Stone: Nobody on this list has had a longer and closer relationship with Trump. Stone has served as something of an informal political adviser for Trump for decades. He got 40 months in prison for obstructing the Russia investigation, with the judge in his case saying, “He was prosecuted for covering up for the president.” As with Manafort, he’s seemingly been rewarded for that.
3. Michael Flynn: Trump’s former White House national security adviser pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador during the 2016-2017 transition. Since then, he has tried to get that conviction thrown out, with extraordinary assistance from Trump’s Justice Department. The judge in his trial said Flynn had arguably “sold your country out” and even asked prosecutors whether they considered treason charges.
4. Charles Kushner: While Trump didn’t attempt to pardon himself or members of his immediate family, he did pardon a member of his extended family. Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner’s father, Charles, was convicted of tax evasion, witness tampering and illegal campaign contributions. That witness tampering charge was especially ugly, given it involved hiring a prostitute to seduce his brother-in-law and videotaping it for leverage. Former Trump adviser Chris Christie, who prosecuted the case as U.S. attorney, said Kushner took part in “one of the most loathsome, disgusting crimes that I prosecuted.”
5. Elliott Broidy: Broidy was a top GOP donor to Trump’s 2016 campaign and later served as a top finance official at the Republican National Committee. His crime: violating foreign lobbying laws for his work on behalf of Chinese and Malaysian interests. Whom he lobbied: the Trump administration. Trump has now forgiven that, shortly after Broidy’s guilty plea.
6. Stephen K. Bannon: Unlike others on this list, Bannon hasn’t been convicted. The 2016 Trump campaign CEO and former top White House adviser was only recently charged. But his alleged crime involves defrauding donors who supported the private construction of a border wall. Trump is effectively pardoning someone accused of defrauding people who supported one of his biggest 2016 campaign promises. Bannon’s pardon is also notable given that he fell out of favor with Trump when he left the White House, with Trump labeling him “Sloppy Steve.” Trump even recently distanced himself from Bannon’s border wall efforts, but has now pardoned him anyway.
7. Other Russia probe figures: Manafort, Stone and Flynn are hardly the only ones Trump has pardoned in connection with the Russia investigation. Both George Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, and Alex van der Zwaan pleaded guilty to making false statements. Trump has routinely used these pardons to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the investigation that so dogged his early presidency. Trump also pardoned conservative activist Paul Erickson, though the connection to the Russia probe is strangely tenuous. Erickson was romantically linked to a Russian agent, Maria Butina. Trump pardoned him because, according to the White House, his conviction “was based off the Russian collusion hoax,” even though Erickson’s crimes didn’t involve Russia but were instead investment crimes.
8. Seven GOP congressmen: Since Trump took office, two incumbent Republican congressmen have been convicted of crimes, Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) and Duncan D. Hunter (R-Calif.), as has a former congressman, Steve Stockman (R-Tex.). Trump pardoned all three of them. Trump also pardoned four former Republican congressmen convicted before his presidency: Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.), Robin Hayes (R-N.C.), Mark Siljander (R-Mich.) and Randall “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.). Their crimes vary in severity. Hayes, for instance, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI during a corruption investigation, while Renzi and Cunningham were found guilty of extensive fraud and wrongdoing. But according to GovTrack’s Legislator Misconduct Database, Trump has now pardoned a majority of Republican congressmen convicted of felonies in the 21st century.
9. The corrupt Democrats: While Trump’s pardons of politicians are overwhelmingly for members of his own party, Trump has seen fit to pardon some Democrats. Most notable among them: former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich and former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. Both were found guilty of extensive corruption, including Blagojevich’s effort to sell a Senate appointment and Kilpatrick’s 24 criminal counts — a tally that earned him a stunning 28-year sentence. Blagojevich, notably, was a guest on “The Apprentice” and has recently emerged as a Trump backer.
10. Figures in the Jack Abramoff scandal: Cunningham’s convictions were big news at the time, and they joined with another case in the 2000s to cast a harsh spotlight on Washington lobbying practices: the Jack Abramoff scandal. Trump previously pardoned David Safavian, who obstructed the investigation, and overnight he also pardoned a member of Abramoff’s lobbying team, Todd Boulanger, who pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge. Trump did not pardon many other figures involved, including Abramoff himself or former congressman Bob Ney (R-Ohio). But a common thread running through Trump’s grants of clemency has been a disregard for convictions of political figures and a laissez-faire attitude toward public corruption.
11. “The Blackwater Four” and others convicted in killings: Trump has pardoned a number of people convicted of murder or manslaughter. Most notable among them are members of the U.S. military whose causes became popular on Fox News and in other conservative media, and the so-called “Blackwater Four,” who were convicted in connection with a massacre of 14 civilians in an unprovoked attack in Iraq. There are differing views of the legitimacy of the Blackwater pardons, but the organization was founded by Erik Prince, a Trump ally and brother of Trump’s now-former education secretary Betsy DeVos. The personal connection between Trump’s pardons and the affiliations of those around him has been a significant feature of Trump’s grants of clemency.
12. A Fox host’s former spouse: Trump’s pardons have regularly been geared toward the Fox News crowd, but perhaps his final one drives it home. He pardoned the ex-husband of Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, Albert Pirro Jr., who was convicted of conspiracy and tax evasion. The Fox host has been among Trump’s most vocal and unquestioning allies, even by the standards of her own network.