WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump announced Thursday that he would offer a full pardon to conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza, who pleaded guilty in 2014 to violating federal campaign finance laws but later said he was targeted for his conservative views.
The president, who has issued several pardons in recent months, said he is also considering clemency in number of other cases, including those of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat, and Martha Stewart, the author and television personality.
D’Souza, an author and filmmaker, was indicted on charges that he illegally used straw donors to contribute to a Republican Senate candidate in New York in 2012. He was sentenced to five years of probation, including eight months living under supervision in a “community confinement center” in San Diego, and a $30,000 fine.
Prosecutors said D’Souza had other individuals donate money to Republican Wendy Long, a Republican challenging Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., in 2012, under the agreement that he would reimburse them for the donations.
Trump, who announced his plans for the pardon on Twitter, later told reporters traveling with him on Air Force One that he had long felt D’Souza’s sentence was too harsh.
“I’ve always felt he was very unfairly treated,” Trump said. “And a lot of people did, a lot of people did. What should have been a quick, minor fine, like everybody else with the election stuff. . . . What they did to him was horrible.”
Trump also relayed that he is considering commuting the remainder of the sentence of Blagojevich, who was convicted in 2010 on charges relating to the selling of President Barack Obama’s former Senate seat.
“What he did does not justify 18 years in a jail,” Trump said. “If you read his statement, it was a foolish statement, there was a lot of bravado. But . . . plenty of other politicians have said a lot worse. And . . . he shouldn’t have been put in jail.”
Trump also cited the case of Stewart, who was convicted in 2004 of obstructing justice and lying to investigators about a well-timed stock sale.
“I think to a certain extent Martha Stewart was harshly and unfairly treated,” Trump said. “And she used to be my biggest fan in the world . . . before I became a politician. But that’s OK, I don’t view it that way.”
A senior White House official said as many as a dozen other pardons are under consideration by Trump, adding that most are likely to happen.
“There are going to be more,” said the official, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about the issue.
Blagojevich, who has been seeking assistance from Trump, wrote an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal earlier this week in which he echoed some of Trump’s concerns about the Justice Department and FBI, saying that “the rule of law is under assault in America.”
“I learned the hard way what happens when an investigation comes up empty after the government had invested time, resources and manpower,” Blagojevich wrote. “When they can’t prove a crime, they create one.”
Both Stewart and Blagojevich have ties to “The Apprentice,” Trump’s long-running reality television series on NBC.
Stewart as the host of a short-lived spinoff, “The Apprentice: Martha Stewart,” in 2005.
Blagojevich was a contestant on “Celebrity Apprentice” in 2010, after he was indicted but before his convictions. Trump praised Blagojevich at the time for having “a lot of guts” to appear on the program.
D’Souza claimed he was targeted by the office of then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara because he was an outspoken critic of President Barack Obama and a prominent conservative activist. In 2012, D’Souza released a movie titled “2016: Obama’s America,” which took a highly critical view of Obama’s allegedly radical roots.
During an interview with syndicated talk show host Laura Ingraham on Thursday after Trump announced the pardon, D’Souza characterized prosecutors in the case as a “team of goons” who gave him a disproportionate sentence.
In an opinion piece published earlier this month by Fox News, D’Souza said that in the FBI file on his case, he was “red-flagged as a political conservative who made a movie critical of President Obama.”
“Why mention this?” D’Souza wrote. “The FBI did it to signal to the Obama Justice Department and its stooges that I was a political enemy they might want to prosecute.”
D’Souza also cited a recent news report about the possibility that comedian Rosie O’Donnell had made contributions over the legal limit to Democratic candidates and said the “far-left, Trump-bashing O’Donnell should get the same treatment” he did.
During his plea hearing in 2014, D’Souza acknowledged wrongdoing.
“I knew that causing a campaign contribution to be made in the name of another was wrong and something the law forbids,” D’Souza said in court. “I deeply regret my conduct.”
Bharara weighed in on Trump’s action shortly after it was announced, writing on Twitter that Trump had the right to pardon D’Souza but “the facts are these: D’Souza intentionally broke the law, voluntarily pled guilty, apologized for his conduct & the judge found no unfairness. The career prosecutors and agents did their job. Period.”
Some fellow conservatives, however, cheered Trump’s move, including Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who had lobbied the White House to issue the pardon.
“Bravo!” Cruz wrote in a tweet in which he claimed that D’Souza “was the subject of a political prosecution, brazenly targeted by the Obama administration [because] of his political views.”
D’Souza, Cruz added, is “a powerful voice for freedom, systematically dismantling the lies of the Left – which is why they hate him. This is Justice.”
The pardon would mark the latest instance of Trump deviating from the normal pardon process.
Generally, those seeking pardons must wait five years from the date they are released from confinement before becoming eligible, and they must apply to the Office of the Pardon Attorney. D’Souza does not have an application on file, a Justice Department spokeswoman said.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has defended Trump’s practices, telling a Senate panel in April that the president “clearly has the constitutional power to execute pardons” and is not obligated to confer with the Justice Department.
The issue took on heightened significance in March, when it was disclosed one of Trump’s attorneys had earlier suggested the president could pardon former advisers targeted in the investigation into Russia’s election interference.
In the wake of his sentencing, D’Souza continued to strongly criticize Obama, often in provocative ways. In 2015, for example, D’Souza sent out a photo on Twitter of Obama appearing to photograph himself with a selfie stick.
“YOU CAN TAKE THE BOY OUT OF THE GHETTO… Watch this vulgar man show his stuff, while America cowers in embarrassment,” D’Souza wrote.
Trump’s announcement about D’Souza came a day after reality television star and socialite Kim Kardashian West visited the White House to lobby Trump and his staff to pardon Alice Marie Johnson, 63, a grandmother serving a life sentence for nonviolent drug offenses.
A tweet sent out by Kardashian West about her visit was later retweeted by Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr.
D’Souza will be the latest in a string of high-profile recipients of pardons that Trump has offered since taking office.
Others receiving pardons from Trump: Joe Arpaio, the former Maricopa County, Ariz., sheriff, who was held in criminal contempt for ignoring a court order related to the detention of immigrants suspected of being in the country illegally; Kristian Saucier, a former Navy sailor convicted of unauthorized retention of national defense information; Lewis “Scooter” Libby, a former chief of staff to Vice President Richard Cheney who was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice related to the leak of a CIA officer’s identity; and Jack Johnson, boxing’s first black heavyweight champion, convicted of breaking a Jim Crow-era law.
Trump has also commuted the sentence of Sholom Rubashkin, the former chief executive of what was once the country’s largest kosher meatpacking plant, who was convicted of more than 80 counts of financial fraud.
The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey, Matt Zapotosky and Sari Horwitz contributed to this report.
Source : Denver Post