Trump Pardons Dinesh D’Souza, Who Pleaded Guilty To Campaign Finance Fraud

President Trump has pardoned conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza, who pleaded guilty in 2014 to making illegal campaign contributions in other people’s names.

On Twitter on Thursday, Trump said D’Souza was “treated very unfairly by our government.”

The White House later issued an official statement saying D’Souza was, “in the president’s opinion, a victim of selective prosecution” — an opinion that was roundly rejected by a federal judge when D’Souza was sentenced. The White House also noted that D’Souza “accepted responsibility for his actions” and completed community service.

D’Souza has been an outspoken supporter of President Trump.

This is the fifth pardon of Trump’s presidency. He told reporters on Air Force One on Thursday that he is considering using his clemency power in other high-profile cases, as well.

He said he is weighing a pardon for Martha Stewart, who served time for conspiracy and lying to federal investigators but has been free for more than a decade. Trump said she was “unfairly treated” and “used to be my biggest fan in the world.”

And the president said he was considering commuting the sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was sentenced to more than a decade in prison for corruption after he tried to sell the Senate seat vacated by former President Barack Obama.

Trump said Blagojevich was put in jail “for being stupid and saying things that … many other politicians say.” He also noted that Blagojevich is a Democrat.

“I don’t know him other than that he was on The Apprentice for a short period of time,” Trump said, referring his former reality TV show. Blagojevich was a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice in 2010.

D’Souza is a best-selling author and successful filmmaker who served as an adviser in the Reagan administration. He’s also a prominent Christian activist; he used to be the president of a Christian college but resigned after he became engaged to one woman while still married to another. He is also a former commentator on NPR.

In 2014, when he was charged with violating federal election campaign laws, D’Souza alleged that he was the victim of selective prosecution, targeted for his conservative beliefs. He had been sharply critical of Obama, whose administration prosecuted him.

A judge rejected that defense, calling it “all hat, no cattle.” Then-Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who prosecuted the case, emphatically denied any political motivation.

“As our office’s record reflects, we will investigate and prosecute violations of federal law, particularly those that undermine the integrity of the democratic electoral process, without regard to the defendant’s political persuasion or party affiliation,” he said in 2014. “That is what we did in this case and what we will continue to do.”

D’Souza ultimately admitted to donating tens of thousands of dollars to a U.S. Senate campaign, well above the individual contributions limit of $5,000, by funneling money to other people and donating in their names.

As part of his guilty plea, D’Souza admitted that he “knew what he was doing was wrong and something the law forbids,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York said in a statement.

D’Souza was sentenced to five years of probation, including eight months’ confinement in a community center.

He has continued to protest his prosecution as political, and celebrated when Bharara was pushed out of office by the Trump administration.

New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood blasted Trump’s pardon of D’Souza.

“President Trump is undermining the rule of law by pardoning a political supporter who is an unapologetic convicted felon,” Underwood said in a statement.

In addition to the five people pardoned, Trump has granted one commutation since taking office.

All the cases have involved public figures or received media attention — from Scooter Libby to former Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Trump is moving to grant pardons much more quickly than his most recent predecessors. At this same point in their presidencies, former Presidents Obama, George W. Bush and Clinton had not issued any pardons.

While issuing pardons used to be more common, presidents in the past few decades have waited until closer to the end of their terms before granting large amounts of pardons, particularly those that might be considered controversial.

Clemency advocates have noted that high visibility in the press — on Fox News in particular — and personal appeals from celebrities seem to help when seeking clemency from Trump.

Actor Sylvester Stallone successfully lobbied for a posthumous pardon for legendary boxer Jack Johnson.

On Wednesday, reality star Kim Kardashian West met with Trump at the White House to make the case for clemency for Alice Marie Johnson, a great-grandmother serving life in prison for a first-time drug offense.

Kardashian West tweeted after the meeting that she hopes Trump will act on Johnson’s case.

[NPR]

Trump slams due process: ‘We’re the only country that has judges’

Trump’s contempt for the rule of law was on full display when he mocked the very idea of due process for immigrants, and seemed to suggest ending immigration courts altogether.

In an interview that aired during Thursday morning’s “Fox & Friends,” host Brian Kilmeade pointed out that Trump’s crackdown has contributed to a monumental backlog in immigration courts.

“You need more judges,” Kilmeade said. “How close is that?”

“Think of it, we are the only country, essentially, that has judges,” Trump said. “They want to hire thousands of judges. Other countries have, it’s called security people. People that stand there and say ‘You can’t come in.

“We have thousands of judges, and they need thousands of more judges,” Trump said. “The whole system is corrupt, It’s horrible. So, yeah, you need thousands of judges based on this crazy system.”

“Who ever heard of a system where you put people through trials?” Trump asked. “Where do these judges come from? You know, a judge is a very special person. How do you hire thousands of people to be a judge? So, it’s ridiculous. We’re going to change the system. We have no choice for the good of our country.”

Trump’s ignorance of immigration courts is staggering, even by Trump’s standards. There are only just over three hundred immigration judges in the United States, and the number of new judges needed to address the backlog is between 200 and 250, not “thousands.”

And Trump is also wrong about the level of due process afforded in immigration courts, where the government is not required to provide legal counsel and, children often end up representing themselves in perfunctory proceedings.

But even worse than our current dysfunctional immigration courts is the prospect that Trump would try to do away with them, as he suggests.

Time and again, Trump has shown contempt for bedrock democratic concepts like free speech, freedom of the press, and an independent Justice Department. Unfortunately, Republicans in Congress have shown equal contempt for their own role as a check on the White House, which makes Trump’s despotic ruminations that much scarier.

[Shareblue]

Donald Trump calls for Jon Tester to resign over Jackson opposition

President Donald Trump on Saturday morning called for Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester to resign over his opposition to White House physician Ronny Jackson’s nomination for secretary of veterans affairs, saying some of the allegations against Jackson “are proving false.”

Tester, the top Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, had raised concerns about allegations against Jackson, including that he loosely handled prescription pain medications, was intoxicated during an overseas trip, and created a toxic work environment. Jackson withdrew his nomination on Thursday.

“Allegations made by Senator Jon Tester against Admiral/Doctor Ron Jackson are proving false,” Trump wrote in a pair of tweets. “The Secret Service is unable to confirm (in fact they deny) any of the phony Democrat charges which have absolutely devastated the wonderful Jackson family. Tester should resign. The………great people of Montana will not stand for this kind of slander when talking of a great human being. Admiral Jackson is the kind of man that those in Montana would most respect and admire, and now, for no reason whatsoever, his reputation has been shattered. Not fair, Tester!”

The White House showed reporters documents that a White House official claims exonerates Jackson from allegations he inappropriately dispensed pills and wrecked a government vehicle after leaving a Secret Service going away party. The Secret Service said it did not find any information to indicate he banged on the hotel room of a female employee while intoxicated on an oversees trip, as four sources familiar with the allegation told CNN the incident did happen.

The incident became so noisy, one source familiar with the allegation told CNN, that the Secret Service stopped him out of concern that he would wake then-President Barack Obama.

Two sources who previously worked in the White House Medical Unit described the same incident, with one former staffer telling CNN that it was “definitely inappropriate, in the middle of the night,” and that it made the woman uncomfortable.

There are other allegations that have not been answered, including that he was allegedly “abusive” to his colleagues and “on at least one occasion” Jackson “could not be reached when needed because he was passed out drunk in his hotel room,” according to Democratic staff on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

[CNN]

The Justice Department Declares War on Attorneys Who Dare to Oppose the Trump Administration

On Friday, the Department of Justice filed an astonishing appeal with the Supreme Court, urging the justices to intervene in the Jane Doe case that seemed to have ended last week. Doe, an undocumented 17-year-old in a federally funded Texas shelter, was denied abortion access by the Trump administration, which argues that it can force undocumented minors to carry unwanted pregnancies to term. On Oct. 24, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that Doe must be allowed to terminate her pregnancy, which she did the next day. Now the DOJ is urging the Supreme Court to vacate that decision—and punish the ACLU attorneys who represented Doe.

Make no mistake: With this filing, Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Justice Department has declared war on attorneys and groups who dare to oppose it in court.

Because Doe obtained her abortion, Friday’s appeal might seem pointless, presenting no live controversy for the justices to adjudicate. But the DOJ has three goals here. First, it wants the Supreme Court to punish the D.C. Circuit for issuing a decision that it believes to be egregiously wrong by wiping the entire ruling off the books. Second, the DOJ wants to eradicate a decision that sets a legal precedent it despises. Doe’s lawsuit was initially brought as part of a class action, and the ACLU will continue to litigate its broader claim against the Trump administration’s absolute bar on abortion access for undocumented minors. As long as the D.C. Circuit’s decision remains on the books, those lawsuits are almost guaranteed to succeed. The Justice Department wants it gone so that it can litigate this issue anew.

Third, and most importantly, Friday’s appeal is a flagrant effort to crucify the individual attorneys who represented Doe, and to terrify likeminded lawyers into acquiescence. The DOJ thus asks the Supreme Court to force Doe’s lawyers to “show cause why disciplinary action should not be taken” against the ACLU—either by the court itself or by state bars—for “material misrepresentations and omissions” designed to thwart an appeal.

In other words, the DOJ is using the full weight of a government agency to threaten professional ruin upon the lawyers who defended Jane Doe’s constitutional right to abortion access.

The DOJ claims that after the D.C. Circuit ruled in Doe’s favor on Oct. 24, government attorneys believed they had until Oct. 26 until Doe got her abortion. Under Texas law, women must obtain “counseling” at least 24 hours before terminating her pregnancy, and this counseling must be performed by the same physician who performs the procedure. Doe had already received this counseling from a Texas doctor when the D.C. Circuit issued its decision. According to the DOJ, ACLU lawyers told the government that this physician would not be working and that Doe would receive another counseling appointment on the morning of October 25, and get the abortion to October 26. Government lawyers asked to be kept informed of the timing of the procedure, and they claim that ACLU lawyers agreed to comply with their request. They also say that the DOJ planned to ask for a stay on Oct. 25—but on that same morning, ACLU attorneys arranged for Doe to visit the doctor who had already counseled her, allowing him to perform the procedure.

Put differently, the government argues that the ACLU owed government lawyers a notification of when Doe’s legal abortion would occur. The end goal here seems to have been to try to continue to block the abortion until it would be illegal to terminate, even though she had secured an unqualified right to do so. (Doe was 16 weeks pregnant by that point; Texas bans abortion after 20 weeks, and the government had already delayed the abortion by a month.) The DOJ also claims that Doe’s lawyers had the responsibility to keep answering their phone calls to update them on her status: “Efforts to reach respondent’s counsel were met with silence, until approximately 10 a.m. EST, when one of her lawyers told the government that Ms. Does had undergone an abortion.”

What really seems to enrage the DOJ, however, is that Doe didn’t attend a second counseling session—which would have been duplicative and wasteful, and caused her yet more needless delay—because the physician who counseled her the first time later agreed to perform the procedure. If ever there were an indicator of the un-distilled bad faith at work here, it’s government lawyers insisting that a non-person with no rights undergo a second round of the same counseling, not for the purposes of medical advice, but so that they would have more time to thwart her choice.

These allegations of wrongdoing are laughably flimsy and outwardly vindictive. Even under the DOJ’s contorted narrative, it’s obvious that the ACLU simply acted efficiently, and the Trump administration is bitter and embarrassed that it lost. The government argues that the ACLU “at least arguably had an obligation to notify the government” that Doe would terminate on Oct. 25—an “incredibly significant development.” But that’s just not how this works. The government had sufficient time to ask the Supreme Court to stay the D.C. Circuit’s decision before Doe terminated. In fact, Texas was already prepared with its own amicus brief backing the DOJ. But the government didn’t act in time. And it’s not the ACLU’s fault that its client secured her constitutional rights while the government dallied in its efforts to exert control of her reproductive capacities. This week-late effort to blame the ACLU for its “arguable” responsibility to ensure that the government could continue to harm their client is not just an effort to save face, but also an attempt to warn attorneys that zealous effectuation of their duties to the clients will now be punished.

The Justice Department’s crusade against the ACLU is especially galling in light of the fact that there was sanctionable misconduct here—on the part of the government itself. Scott Lloyd, the official who blocked Doe and other minors from abortion access, likely violated a long-standing federal settlement agreement in his anti-abortion crusade. Under this agreement, undocumented minors like Doe must be allowed access to family planning services, which Lloyd intentionally and repeatedly withheld. He even instituted his anti-abortion views as official government policy in obvious violation of the federal settlement.

If anyone deserves to be punished here, it is surely Lloyd, who flouted the law for purely ideological purposes. But instead of investigating its own employee for potential misconduct, the government is going after Doe’s ACLU attorneys for defending her constitutional rights. This is a shocking assault on the nation’s civil rights attorneys, and an unprecedented effort by the DOJ to slander and shame those attorneys who defend their clients’ rights against the government’s abuse of the law. After today, lawyers who question the Trump administration’s legal views should be aware that they have targets on their backs.

[Slate]

Trump calls for death penalty for NYC terror suspect, considers him ‘enemy combatant’

President Donald Trump called for the New York City terror suspect to get the death penalty in a late-night tweet Wednesday just hours after Sayfullo Saipov was charged with providing support to ISIS and violence and destruction of motor vehicles.

Trump referenced Saipov’s request to hang an ISIS flag in his hospital room, an anecdote relayed by authorities Wednesday afternoon, and said he “SHOULD GET DEATH PENALTY!” in all capital letters.

Earlier in the afternoon, Trump raised the possibility of sending the alleged perpetrator to Guantanamo Bay prison. The White House press secretary said the administration considers him to be an “enemy combatant.”

“I believe we would consider this person to be an enemy combatant,” Sarah Sanders said in response to questioning at Wednesday’s White House press briefing.

As an “enemy combatant,” Saipov, the suspect in the attack, could face an altered interrogation and prosecution process.

Trump earlier condemned the United States criminal justice system and labeled Saipov an “animal.”

“We have to come up with punishment that’s far quicker and far greater than the punishment these animals are getting right now,” Trump said. He added: “What we have right now is a joke” before responding affirmatively when asked if he wanted the alleged assailant to be sent to the Cuban prison notorious for housing alleged terrorists and enemy combatants.

“I would certainly consider it. Send him to Gitmo,” he said, using a nickname for Guantanamo Bay. “I would certainly consider it.”

The president further signaled his intention to “terminate the diversity lottery program,” the visa lottery under which Saipov was admitted from Uzbekistan seven years ago. The Department of Homeland Security confirmed Saipov utilized the program Wednesday. Trump said he would be asking Congress to “get rid of” the policy in favor of a “merit-based program.”

Earlier in the day, Trump pointed a finger at Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., for the immigration policies he claims are connected to the attack that left eight people dead and many more injured.

“The terrorist came into our country through what is called the ‘Diversity Visa Lottery Program,’ a Chuck Schumer beauty,” Trump said on Twitter Wednesday.

Trump also promoted the suggested “merit-based” immigration system.

[ABC News]

Reality

By Trump swaying the decision early and attempting to bully the judiciary, he could possibly have tainted the case against Saipov.

Hours after Trump calls US justice system ‘a laughingstock,’ White House denies he ever did

The White House on Wednesday flatly denied that President Donald Trump had ever called the American criminal justice system “a joke and a laughingstock,” just hours after Trump said precisely that during a televised Cabinet meeting.

“We need quick justice and we need strong justice — much quicker and much stronger than we have right now — because what we have right now is a joke, and it’s a laughingstock,” Trump said at the meeting.

The president’s remark followed a terror attack in New York City on Tuesday that killed eight people. The suspect, Sayfullo Saipov, was shot on the scene and quickly taken into custody. Authorities later found items that indicate the attack was inspired by ISIS.

A few hours after Trump’s Cabinet meeting, CNN’s Jim Acosta asked White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, “Why did the president call the U.S. justice system a joke and a laughingstock?”

“That’s not what he said,” Sanders replied. “He said that process has people calling us a joke and a laughingstock.”

Sanders went on to say that the president was frustrated by how long and costly it is to prosecute individuals accused of terror-related crimes under U.S. law.

“Particularly for someone to be a known terrorist, that process should move faster. That’s the point [Trump] is making. That’s the frustration he has,” she said.

To be sure, Trump did express his frustration at the slow pace of the justice system during his Cabinet meeting, saying the nation needed “to come up with a punishment that’s far quicker and far greater than the punishment these animals are getting right now.” But he never said there were “people calling us a joke.”

Wednesday’s press briefing left reporters stunned, as they compared Sanders’ denial with the official transcript of Trump’s remarks in the Cabinet meeting.

CNBC asked the White House to clarify how Sanders could have claimed “that’s not what [the president] said” when that was, in fact, precisely what the president said. The White House did not immediately respond.

[CNBC]

Media

Trump calls US justice system ‘a laughing stock,’ White House denies it from CNBC.

Trump labels US justice system ‘laughing stock’

President Donald Trump called for “quick justice” and “strong justice” for terror suspects in the wake of the deadly New York City attack.

We have to come up with punishment that’s far quicker and far greater than the punishment these animals are getting right now. They’ll go through court for years. At the end, they’ll be — who knows what happens. We need quick justice, and we need strong justice. Much quicker and much stronger than we have right now, because what we have right now is a joke, and it’s a laughing stock. And no wonder so much of this stuff takes place.

Tuesday’s terror attack in New York was the city’s deadliest since 9/11. Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov drove a rented van down a bike path, law enforcement sources have said. The attack killed six victims instantly, while two others died later. New York politicians and officials quickly labeled the incident a terror attack.

[CNN]

Reality

As Vox points out, this is verifiably false pretty much from top to bottom.

There is no evidence that US courts are unable to prosecute terrorism suspects in a timely fashion. The opposite: Since 9/11, more than 620 individuals have been convicted on terrorism charges in 63 separate federal courts, according to a May 2017 count by Human Rights First. None of these terrorists have broken out of prison, and none of the courts have suffered retaliatory attacks.

Moreover, the US already tried to set up an alternative system — the military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that George W. Bush established after 9/11 — and it was a disaster.

Military courts are well equipped to try US service members who violate military laws, but aren’t set up to deal with complex and wide-ranging constitutional and classification issues raised by major terrorism prosecution. This makes them slower and puts verdicts on less sure legal footing. In the same time span that civilian courts convicted 620 individuals on terrorism charges, military commissions convicted a grand total of eight people.

Trump Pardons His Friend Sheriff Joe Arpaio

President Donald Trump has pardoned controversial former sheriff Joe Arpaio of his conviction for criminal contempt, the White House said Friday night.

Arpaio, who was a sheriff in Maricopa County, Arizona, was found guilty of criminal contempt last month for disregarding a court order in a racial profiling case. Arpaio’s sentencing had been scheduled for October 5.

“Not only did (Arpaio) abdicate responsibility, he announced to the world and to his subordinates that he was going to continue business as usual no matter who said otherwise,” wrote US District Judge Susan Bolton in the July 31 order.

Trump indicated he would pardon Arpaio at a rally in Phoenix, Arizona, on Tuesday: “I won’t do it tonight because I don’t want to cause any controversy.”

“I’ll make a prediction,” Trump said, adding, “I think he’s going to be just fine.”

However, civil rights groups have pushed back against the possibility of Arpaio’s pardon.

After Trump’s comments at the Phoenix rally, the ACLU tweeted: “President Trump should not pardon Joe Arpaio. #PhoenixRally #noarpaiopardon,” accompanied with a graphic that reads, “No, President Trump. Arpaio was not ‘just doing his job.’ He was violating the Constitution and discriminating against Latinos.”

Arpaio, who has called himself “America’s toughest sheriff,” was an early Trump supporter, but his stance on illegal immigration was what had earned him national recognition.

[CNN]

Trump Brags to Russians About Firing ‘Nut Job’ Comey

President Donald Trump bragged to two top Russian officials last week that firing “nut job” FBI Director James Comey eased “great pressure” on him, The New York Times reported Friday.

“I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Trump said, according to the Times. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

Trump’s Oval Office meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak came one day after Comey was fired.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer did not refute the Times story but said it was Comey’s “grandstanding and politicizing” of the Russia investigation that put pressure on the administration’s ability to engage Moscow.

“The President has always emphasized the importance of making deals with Russia as it relates to Syria, Ukraine, defeating ISIS and other key issues for the benefit and safety of the American people,” Spicer said in a statement to CNN. “By grandstanding and politicizing the investigation into Russia’s actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia.”

He added, “The investigation would have always continued, and obviously, the termination of Comey would not have ended it. Once again, the real story is that our national security has been undermined by the leaking of private and highly classified conversations.”

Trump’s dismissal of Comey was met with bipartisan derision. The move, which came after Trump asked Comey for his loyalty and, according to memos written by the former FBI director, requested he kill an investigation into Trump’s top national security adviser, was seen as a clear violation of protocol and had some Democrats calling for impeachment.
The President maintains he was surprised by the response to Comey’s firing.

“Director Comey was very unpopular with most people,” he said Thursday at a news conference. “When I made that decision, I actually thought that it would be a bipartisan decision. Because you look at all of the people on the Democratic side, not only the Republican side, that were saying such terrible things about Director Comey.”
The news broke shortly after Trump took off for his critically important five-country, eight-day foreign trip, the first of his presidency.

Even before Friday’s report, news about Comey and the newly named special counsel for the Russia investigation has threatened to overshadow Trump’s trip.

Trump’s meeting with Lavrov and Kislyak was controversial before news of talk about Comey ever came out. No United States media were invited in for the meeting, but a photographer from TASS, the Russian state media organization, was in the room for at least part of the gathering. The meeting was also personal request from Vladimir Putin. The Russian President asked that they meet when he spoke with Trump earlier this month.

[CNN]

Reality

The White House did not refute the report, but instead tried to claim “pressure” Trump was referring to was the FBI’s investigation gave Trump an inability for diplomatic negotiations with Russia But how is that any better? The White House is still admitting Comey was fired for political reasons.

Trump Uses Power of Office to Intimidate Witness Sally Yates

CNN’s Dana Bash and John King slammed President Trump on Monday for tweeting about former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, calling it “witness intimidation” ahead of her testimony to a Senate Judiciary subcommittee.

“Before I covered politics all the time, I used to cover the courts a lot. A lawyer would call that witness intimidation,” King, the host of “Inside Politics,” said.

Bash agreed with that charge. “Completely. Look, I think that we have all been kind of desensitized, in some way, to his tweets and to his statements that are so out of the norm,” Bash, the network’s chief political correspondent, said. “This is beyond out of the norm. This is inappropriate.

“For the president of the United States to be this aggressive with somebody who used to work for him, who is coming before the United States Congress in sworn testimony hours later, is beyond the pale. It just is.”

Trump sent two successive tweets on Monday morning, including one directed at Yates urging lawmakers to ask “if she knows how classified information” was leaked to the press.

Yates, a former acting attorney general who was fired by Trump for her refusal to defend his travel ban, will testify during a Senate hearing on Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election.

Yates is expected to testify that she warned the White House about former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russia, which would contradict the administration’s claims.

(h/t The Hill)

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