One Last Grift On His Way Out The Door
It's a perfect, perfect list. No, really.
Trump's last-second pardons are out, and there could not be a more consummate encapsulation of the last four years, which are now over. The venality, the favoritism, the naked corruption, the gross tokenism ... it's all there.
"And no one's done more for the Jews! I pardoned that Israeli spy handler. It meant a lot to them."
He won't talk about the absolute gravy train of corruption that led to dozens of white collar convictions being wiped away after a blizzard of lobbying fueled by cash and connections. Why would he? To him it's normal that a wealthy sports gambler should pay Trump's former attorney John Dowd to work his White House connections to get an insider trading conviction commuted. Why shouldn't former prosecutor Brett Tolman collect money from clients lobbying to get a pardon, while simultaneously advising the White House on the issuance of pardons? How would a president know who deserves clemency without a cottage industry of hustlers looking to sell their access or do some business in the favor economy?
"Everything is a transaction. He likes pardons because it is unilateral. And he likes doing favors for people he thinks will owe him," a source told CNN.
And just like every other filthy, awful thing in the past four years, he doesn't even know that it's wrong. Take for instance the commutation of pending charges against Miami developer Robert Zangrillo in the college admissions scandal.
President Trump granted a full pardon to Robert Zangrillo. This pardon is supported by Len Blavatnik, Geoff Palmer, Tom Barrack, Sean Parker, Walid Abu-Zalaf, Medo Alsaloussi, and Kevin Downing. Mr. Zangrillo was charged in connection with the Varsity Blues investigation. However, his daughter did not have others take standardized tests for her and she is currently earning a 3.9 GPA at the University of Southern California. Mr. Zangrillo is a well-respected business leader and philanthropist.
The kid was packaged as a crew recruit, despite the fact that she does not even row, in exchange for a $50,000 donation to the athletic department and $200,000 to the handler. This was a fraud on the school, which is perhaps why Trump's gazillionaire buddy Tom Barrack, who sits on USC's board of trustees, is furiously trying to distance himself from it.
"Mr. Barrack had nothing whatsoever to do with Mr. Zangrillo's pardon," his spokesman told the LA Times. "He never intervened and never had discussion with anyone about it. All reports to the contrary are patently false."
Because you're supposed to keep that shit on the DL, not put it in a press release! Four years in Washington, and the fool is still saying the quiet part out loud.
The list of pardons and commutations is a parade of grotesques, with non-violent drug offenders "supported by Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and the Office of the Pardon Attorney" building a wall of legitimacy around the white collar criminals supported by the president's coterie. The former were locked away for decades under the same harsh, mandatory minimum sentencing laws championed by Trump's Attorneys General Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr. The latter served a few years and would like to go home early and/or have their slates wiped clean, please and thanks.
Like the healthcare CEO who just started a 42-month sentence in a $4.6 million kickback scheme. He was lucky enough to have an in with Sen. Rand Paul, so he's going home. Or Michael Liberty, who "was convicted for campaign finance violations and later was indicted for related offenses," according to the White House press release. By which they mean, he made an illegal campaign contribution to Mitt Romney's campaign, and is currently under indictment for scamming 55 investors out of $200 million. He gets a full pardon, of course, thanks to lobbying by Maine state Rep. Susan Austin.
There are plenty more like that, but let's move on to the truly vile pardons.
There's political consultant Ken Kurson, Jared Kushner's buddy who was charged with cyberstalking and harassment after his divorce. "This investigation only began because Mr. Kurson was nominated to a role within the Trump Administration," the White House wrote. They left out the part where he harassed his ex-wife and her friend, whom he blamed for his divorce, leaving threatening voice mails, negative Yelp reviews, showing up at the friend's office, and hacking her email. Allegedly!
This pardon is supported by Kellyanne Conway. Mr. Erickson's conviction was based off the Russian collusion hoax. After finding no grounds to charge him with any crimes with respect to connections with Russia, he was charged with a minor financial crime. Although the Department of Justice sought a lesser sentence, Mr. Erickson was sentenced to 7 years' imprisonment—nearly double the Department of Justice's recommended maximum sentence. This pardon helps right the wrongs of what has been revealed to be perhaps the greatest witch hunt in American History.
He pled guilty to defrauding investors in an oil scheme entirely unrelated to the Russia investigation, after a long career of defrauding people for the purpose of "Christian nursing homes." But, you know, WITCH HUNT!
Trump pardoned Elliott Broidy, the former RNC fundraiser who just pled guilty in October to acting as an unregistered foreign agent of the Malaysian and Chinese governments. He pardoned Rick Renzi, Robert Hayes, and Randy Cunningham, three former Republican congressmen convicted of corruption. Randy "Duke" Cunningham lived rent-free on a lobbyist's boat called the Duke Stir where he would entertain women in a fetid hot tub by the light of a lava lamp. He had an actual bribe menu on his business card, but he never sold weed, so he got out of jail in 2013.
But at least Duke Cunningham served his time! Steve Bannon, who was charged with scamming Trump's supporters out of cash to build that border wall Mexico was totally going to pay for, was pardoned before he could even stand trial. White House staff thought they'd talked Trump out of letting Bannon skate, but a late phone call by Bannon paid off. It didn't pay off for his co-conspirator Brian Kolfage, however. Guess there's no honor among thieves.
"Mr. Bannon has been an important leader in the conservative movement and is known for his political acumen," the White House wrote. Which is one way to put it.
In the end, Trump didn't pardon himself or his kids or Rudy Giuliani, as we'd predicted. In our defense, we didn't predict a violent insurrection stoked by the president and his nasty family, either, after which a pardon looked like an admission of guilt and a politically impossible challenge to the Senate during impeachment. Failure of imagination on our part, we guess.
And now, as he shambles out the door, our Fox News president has one more gift to give to the people that made him. He's reportedly pardoned Judge Jeanine's ex-husband Albert Pirro, a lawyer who once represented Trump in real estate deals and served 11 months on tax evasion charges in 2000. Talk about bending the arc of the moral universe!
Well, as a former president once said, that was some weird shit. And thank God it's over.
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Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.