Trump says he’s ‘very strongly’ considering commuting Rod Blagojevich’s sentence

President Trump on Wednesday said he’s “very strongly” considering commuting the prison sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), who is serving 14 years on federal corruption charges.

“I thought he was treated unbelievably unfairly,” the president told reporters on Air Force One en route back to Washington, D.C., after visiting the sites of recent mass shootings.

“His wife I think is fantastic and I’m thinking about commuting his sentence very strongly,” Trump added. “I think it’s enough, seven years.”

Blagojevich was removed from office in 2009 and was later convicted of a wide array of corruption charges, including trying to sell Barack Obama’s Senate seat after he was elected president in 2008. The former governor began serving a 14-year prison sentence in 2012.

“I’ve got this thing, and it’s f—— golden. I’m just not giving it up for f—— nothing,” Blagojevich said of Obama’s Senate seat in a recorded phone call.

Trump on Wednesday downplayed Blagojevich’s conduct on the call, chalking it up to “braggadocio.”

“He’s been in jail for seven years over a phone call where nothing happens — over a phone call which he shouldn’t have said what he said, but it was braggadocio you would say,” Trump said. “I would think that there have been many politicians — I’m not one of them by the way — that have said a lot worse over the telephone.”

Trump noted that former FBI Director James Comey — a frequent target of criticism for the president — worked the case to convict Blagojevich. Comey was the FBI’s attorney general at the time of the case.

The president floated a commutation for Blagojevich last year, but has yet to take action. The two men knew each previously from when the former governor appeared on “Celebrity Apprentice.”

Numerous Illinois political figures have in recent years voiced support for commuting Blagojevich’s sentence, including Sen. Dick Durbin (D) and Rev. Jesse Jackson.

[The Hill]

Trump offers to guarantee ASAP Rocky’s bail in Sweden

President Trump said he spoke with Sweden’s prime minister Saturday about jailed rapper ASAP Rocky and “offered to personally vouch for his bail.”

Trump tweeted that during a “a very good call” with Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, he also “assured him that A$AP was not a flight risk.” The platinum-selling, Grammy-nominated artist has been in custody since early this month over an alleged fight.

Urged on by the first lady and celebrities including Kanye West and Kim Kardashian West, the president had said in a Friday tweet that he would intervene to try to free Rocky, whose real name is Rakim May.

“Our teams will be talking further, and we agreed to speak again in the next 48 hours!” Trump wrote Saturday after speaking with Lofven.

Lofven said in a statement earlier Saturday that he would be glad to speak with Trump about ASAP Rocky’s detention but that his government “cannot and will not attempt to influence prosecutors or courts.”

“I understand that President Trump has a personal interest in the case …. He has expressed the desire for a conversation with me, which is certainly positive,” Lofven said. “I will explain that the Swedish judicial system is independent. In Sweden, everyone is equal before the law, and this includes visitors from other countries.”

Rocky has been behind bars while Swedish police investigate the fight in Stockholm he was allegedly involved in before appearing at a music festival. Videos published on social media appear to show a person being violently thrown onto the ground by Rocky. A defense lawyer has said Rocky acted in self-defense.

Other recording artists have also spoken out on his behalf, including Sean “Diddy” Combs, Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes, Nicki Minaj and Post Malone.

[Los Angeles Times]

Trump requests paperwork to pardon accused US war criminals

President Donald Trump has requested paperwork allowing him to move forward quickly with pardons for accused US war criminals, The New York Times reported Saturday.

The pardons from a President who on the campaign trail expressed support for “tougher” tactics than waterboarding and going after the families of terrorists could come “on or around Memorial Day,” two US officials told the Times.

One military official told the Times that the White House made its request to the Justice Department on Friday, and that while pardon files typically take months to assemble, the Justice Department had stressed the files needed to be completed before the coming Memorial Day weekend.

The Times said those who could potentially receive clemency include a Navy SEAL who is facing trial for shooting unarmed civilians and murdering a wounded person, along with a range of others accused or convicted of shooting or killing unarmed civilians.

Trump previously expressed sympathy for Eddie Gallagher, the Navy SEAL in question, in a March tweet saying he would be moved to “less restrictive confinement” ahead of his trial.

“In honor of his past service to our Country, Navy Seal #EddieGallagher will soon be moved to less restrictive confinement while he awaits his day in court. Process should move quickly! @foxandfriends @RepRalphNorman,” Trump tweeted.

Gallagher was charged last year for the various violent incidents in Iraq during 2017.

On the campaign trail, Trump implied he would support torturing detainees as president, and after significant pushback for his enthusiastic comments about waterboarding and killing the families of terrorists, he reversed the position in a statement. But just days after taking the oath of office, Trump again expressed support for torture and said he “absolutely” believed it works.

Trump’s potential pardons for accused and convicted war criminals, if issued, would mark the latest gesture from the US President toward a change in standards for US war efforts and treatment of detainees that he intimated on the campaign trail.

Earlier this month, Trump pardoned Michael Behenna, a former Army soldier who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for killing a detainee he drove into the Iraqi desert and shot twice. In April, the Trump administration revoked the visa for the chief prosecutor on the International Criminal Court, and a spokesperson said at the time that the US would take necessary steps “to protect our people from unjust investigation.”

The ICC, which the US is not a member of, sought authorization previously to open an investigation into crimes committed by US troops in Afghanistan.

[CNN]

Trump Pardons Ex-Newspaper Publisher Conrad Black, Author of a Super-Flattering Book About POTUS Last Year

President Donald Trump has pardoned a media mogul who just so happened to author a book gushing about the Trump presidency.

Conrad Black‘s international media empire once included the Chicago Sun-Times, Britain’s Daily Telegraph and the Jerusalem Post.

He was also found guilty of taking money from the newspapers’ profits.

Reuters reports:

“[Black]was found guilty in the United States in 2007 of scheming to siphon off millions of dollars from the sale of newspapers owned by Hollinger Inc, where he was chief executive and chairman.

Two of his three fraud convictions were later voided, and his sentence was shortened. He was released from a Florida prison in May 2012 and deported from the United States.

Black was born in Canada and is a British citizen.

The White House’s statement refers to Black with his courtesy title of Lord and claims high-profile people “vigorously vouched” for Black, including Rush Limbaugh.

“Lord Black’s case has attracted broad support from many high-profile individuals who have vigorously vouched for his exceptional character” the White House statement read.

The statement continued on: “This impressive list includes former Secretary of State Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Sir Elton JohnRush Limbaugh, the late William F. Buckley, Jr., and many additional notable individuals.”

[Mediaite]

Trump pardons ex-soldier convicted of killing Iraqi prisoner

President Trump on Monday signed an executive grant of clemency, a full pardon, to a former Army first lieutenant convicted of murdering an Iraqi prisoner.

The White House released a statement announcing Trump’s decision to pardon Michael Behenna, who was sentenced in 2009 to 15 years for shooting and killing Ali Mansur Mohamed. The move comes after repeated requests from Oklahoma’s attorney general for Trump to pardon Behenna. 

“Mr. Behenna’s case has attracted broad support from the military, Oklahoma elected officials, and the public,” the White House said, noting that more than two dozen generals and admirals as well as numerous Oklahoma officials have expressed support for Behenna, who hails from the state. The statement added that Behenna has been “a model prisoner.”

“In light of these facts, Mr. Behenna is entirely deserving of this Grant of Executive Clemency,” the statement read.

Prosecutors argued Behenna shot and killed Mansur, an alleged al Qaeda operative, in the desert in 2008 in retaliation for an improvised explosive device (IED) attack. Mansur had previously been ordered released because of a lack of evidence of his connection to the terrorist group, and Behenna reportedly killed him while returning him to his hometown after attempting to question him about the IED attack.

Behenna was paroled in 2014 and was to remain on parole until 2024 prior to the pardon. Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter (R) recently petitioned the Trump administration to pardon the Oklahoma native, writing to Attorney General William Barr in April that Behenna was convicted because of improper jury instructions and because prosecutors did not turn over evidence bolstering his claim of self-defense. Hunter had previously petitioned for the pardon in February 2018.

“I commend President Trump’s decision to grant a full pardon for Mr. Behenna,” Hunter said in a statement Monday evening. “Mr. Behenna served his country with distinction, honor and sacrifice. He has admitted to his mistakes, has learned from them and deserves to move on from this incident without living under its cloud for the rest of his life.”

“My hope is that Michael and the rest of his family can rest easy this evening knowing they can put this tragic situation behind them.”

[The Hill]

Trump told CBP head he’d pardon him if he were sent to jail for violating immigration law

During President Donald Trump’s visit to the border at Calexico, California, a week ago, where he told border agents to block asylum seekers from entering the US contrary to US law, the President also told the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, Kevin McAleenan, that if he were sent to jail as a result of blocking those migrants from entering the US, the President would grant him a pardon, senior administration officials tell CNN.

Two officials briefed on the exchange say the President told McAleenan, since named the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, that he “would pardon him if he ever went to jail for denying US entry to migrants,” as one of the officials paraphrased.

It was not clear if the comment was a joke; the official was not given any further context on the exchange.The White House referred CNN to the Department of Homeland Security. A DHS spokesman told CNN, “

At no time has the President indicated, asked, directed or pressured the Acting Secretary to do anything illegal. Nor would the Acting Secretary take actions that are not in accordance with our responsibility to enforce the law.”

[CNN]

Trump Says Pardon for Paul Manafort is ‘Not Off the Table’

President Donald Trump declined in a new interview to rule out the possibility that he could pardon Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman.

“It was never discussed, but I wouldn’t take it off the table. Why would I take it off the table?” Trump told the New York Post.

The President’s comments come following special counsel Robert Mueller’s accusation that Manafort violated his plea agreement and lied to Mueller’s team after being found guilty on eight counts of financial crimes in August.

[CNN]

Trump Calls Manafort ‘Good Person’ and Criticizes Fraud Trial

President Donald Trump called his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort a “very good person” and criticized his trial on bank fraud and money laundering charges, as a jury began a second day of deliberations on a verdict.

“I think the whole Manafort trial is very sad,” Trump told reporters Friday before departing the White House for a fundraiser in New York. “I think it is a very sad day for our country. He worked for me for a very short period of time. But, you know what, he happens to be a very good person. And I think it’s very sad what they’ve done to Paul Manafort.”

Trump declined to say whether he would pardon his former aide if convicted. Yet, his commentary about an ongoing criminal case before a jury marks a sharp departure from presidential norms guarding against political interference with the judicial process.

Manafort is the first person to be tried as a result of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign. Mueller’s prosecutors have alleged that Manafort, before joining Trump’s campaign, for years hid millions of dollars in income earned from pro-Russia clients in Ukraine in foreign bank accounts while fraudulently obtaining bank loans to support an opulent lifestyle.

The charges Manafort faces are unrelated to his work for Trump’s campaign. Trump has repeatedly denied his campaign colluded with Russian efforts to manipulate the outcome of the election and regularly calls Mueller’s investigation a “witch hunt.”

[Bloomberg]

Trump Pardons Oregon Ranchers Whose Case Inspired Wildlife Refuge Takeover

President Trump on Tuesday pardoned a pair of Oregon cattle ranchers who had been serving out five-year sentences for arson on federal land — punishments that inspired the armed occupation of a wildlife refuge in 2016 and brought widespread attention to anger over federal land management in the Western United States.

The case against the ranchers — Dwight L. Hammond, now 76, and his son, Steven D. Hammond, 49 — became a cause célèbre for an antigovernment group’s weekslong standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

The occupation, led by the Bundy family, drew hordes of militia members who commandeered government buildings and vehicles in tactical gear and long guns, promising to defend the family.

During his campaign, Mr. Trump played to that sense of Western grievance, and the pardon of the Hammonds was a signal to conservatives that he was sympathetic. His pardon in August of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Ariz., was another such sign.

The Hammond pardons were the result of a monthslong push by agricultural groups like the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had been among the ranchers’ strongest supporters, according to the association’s executive director, Jerome Rosa.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said in a statement on Tuesday that the Obama administration had been “overzealous” in pursuing the Hammonds. “This was unjust,” she said.

The pardons drew immediate criticism from environmental groups and their allies, who said they would imperil the rule of law on public lands.

“This is so very wrong,” Joan Anzelmo, a former superintendent of Colorado National Monument, said in a message on Twitter. “No one is safe from from felons with friends in high places. Terrible. Dangerous. Wrong.”

The federal government owns about half the acres in the West, and Obama administration policies there often angered ranchers and others who work and live on those lands. His administration blocked new coal leases, imposed moratoriums on uranium drilling near the Grand Canyon, and placed an unprecedented amount of land and sea under heightened federal protection.

Mr. Trump, in contrast, has struck a far more favorable tone toward those who want to loosen regulation on public land, and he has been aided by Mr. Zinke. In December, the president sharply reduced the size of two conservation areas in Utah, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. It was the largest rollback of federal land protection in the nation’s history.

The Hammonds were prosecuted under a 1996 terrorism statute, passed after the Oklahoma City bombing, that imposed five-year mandatory minimum sentences for arson on federal property. Critics called the sentences too harsh.

“The Hammonds are multigeneration cattle ranchers in Oregon imprisoned in connection with a fire that leaked onto a small portion of neighboring public grazing land,” Ms. Sanders said. “The evidence at trial regarding the Hammonds’ responsibility for the fire was conflicting, and the jury acquitted them on most of the charges.”

In a pointed criticism of the Obama administration, she added, “The previous administration, however, filed an overzealous appeal that resulted in the Hammonds being sentenced to five years in prison.”

Dwight and Steven Hammond — who own about 13,000 acres of land in Eastern Oregon and once ran cattle on 26,000 acres of public land — have a history of conflict with federal officials, which indirectly led to the showdown in Oregon.

Both were convicted for a 2001 fire that burned more than 100 acres of federal land. While the Hammonds said it was devised to control invasive species, witnesses at their trial testified that it occurred after Steven Hammond and a hunting party illegally slaughtered several deer. The jury was told that Steven Hammond handed out matches and told allies to “light up the whole country on fire.”

He was also convicted of setting a second fire, in 2006, which he said was meant to manage the spread of other wildfires, a common practice.

The pair was convicted in 2012 and served a short time in prison. But a federal appeals court ruled in 2015 that they had been improperly sentenced and ordered them to return to prison.

Word of this second imprisonment soon reached the Bundy family, a sprawling ranching clan based in Bunkerville, Nev., that in recent years had emerged as a symbol of the most extreme version of the push against federal land control.

Angered by the Hammond case, two of the Bundy brothers, Ryan and Ammon, traveled to Oregon and stormed the Malheur wildlife refuge in what turned into a standoff with federal officials.

Many of those who joined the protest were members of unofficial militias who carried long guns and pistols and dressed as if at war. The occupation resulted in the death of a rancher from Arizona.

The Hammonds, however, never asked for the help of the Bundys or the militia members, and amid it all, quietly headed to prison.

The pardons will shave some time off the Hammonds’ sentences — Dwight Hammond has served three years and Steven Hammond has served four.

Ryan Bundy, one of the occupation leaders, hailed the president’s announcement of the pardons as a victory, the latest in a string of wins for his family. Mr. Bundy was ultimately acquitted for his role in the takeover, and is now running for governor of Nevada.

“Awesome, awesome, awesome,” he said. “It’s been a long time coming. It’s been a long time coming. That is good news.”

The move also drew praise from the cattlemen’s association.

“I had the opportunity to have a private meeting with him,” Mr. Rosa, the group’s executive director, said of Mr. Zinke. “I mentioned to him the Hammond situation. He was well aware of it, agreed that the Hammonds were good people, and said he would talk to the president and give his blessing to release the Hammonds from prison.”

Representative Greg Walden, Republican of Oregon, also lobbied aggressively for the pair’s release.

But some conservation groups strongly opposed the decision.

“Pardoning the Hammonds sends a dangerous message to America’s park rangers, wildland firefighters, law enforcement officers and public lands managers,” Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, said in a statement. “President Trump, at the urging of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, has once again sided with lawless extremists who believe that public land does not belong to all Americans.”

The Hammonds are the sixth and seventh people to receive pardons from Mr. Trump. In all his pardons, Mr. Trump bypassed the typical process (a five-year waiting period is required for requests to be made to the Justice Department) and passed over the more than 10,000 pardon and clemency applications. The president has the power to pardon anyone sentenced for a federal offense.

[The New York Times]

Trump says he’s considering pardon for Muhammad Ali, who doesn’t need one

President Donald Trump said Friday he was considering granting a posthumous pardon for Muhammad Ali — prompting a lawyer for his estate and family to say thanks, but no thanks: The boxing great had his criminal conviction overturned by the Supreme Court nearly 50 years ago.

Trump, who has issued several pardons and commutations in recent weeks, told reporters that he was “thinking about Muhammad Ali,” for a pardon.

“He was not very popular then, his memory is very popular now,” Trump said at the White House shortly before a departure for the G-7 summit in Quebec City, Canada. “I’m thinking about that very seriously.”

Not long after, an attorney for Ali’s estate and family responded, saying that a pardon wouldn’t be necessary.

“We appreciate President Trump’s sentiment, but a pardon is unnecessary. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Muhammad Ali in a unanimous decision in 1971,” Ron Tweel, who has represented Ali and his family since 1986, told NBC News. “There is no conviction from which a pardon is needed.”

But even though there is no Ali conviction on the books — the usual reason for a pardon — former DOJ pardon attorneys say it’s too limited to think of a pardon as simply a conviction eraser.

“A pardon is an act of forgiveness,” says former pardon attorney Samuel Morrison. “The pardon is for the conduct, regardless of whether there was or still is a conviction.”

For example, In 1977, President Jimmy Carter granted amnesty, which is a pardon for a group, to all Vietnam-era draft evaders, many of whom had never been convicted.

Ali, who died in 2016, was convicted of draft evasion, sentenced to five years in prison and stripped of his heavyweight boxing title after he refused, in 1967, to report for induction to fight in the Vietnam War, declaring himself a conscientious objector and citing his Muslim faith.

Ali appealed his conviction, allowing him to remain out of prison, and the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the conviction in 1971 in a unanimous decision that found the Department of Justice had improperly told the draft board that Ali’s stance wasn’t motivated by religious belief.

Even as his health declined, Ali did not shy from politics — or from criticizing Trump. In December 2015, he released a statement slamming then-candidate Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States. “We as Muslims have to stand up to those who use Islam to advance their own personal agenda,” Ali said.

Meanwhile, Trump, who recently pardoned Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight boxing champ, also said that he has a list of several thousand other names that he is reviewing for potential pardons.

Trump added that he was “looking at literally thousands of names.”

Trump has issued several pardons and commutations so far in his presidency.

In addition to his posthumous pardon last month of Johnson, the African-American boxing legend who was convicted under a law that was used as a deterrent to interracial dating, Trump has also issued pardons to conservative provocateur Dinesh D’Souza, who pleaded guilty in 2014 to violating campaign finance laws; Joe Arpaio, a former Arizona sheriff who is a favorite of immigration hard-liners; I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the aide to former Vice President Dick Cheney who was convicted of obstructing justice and lying to authorities during an investigation into the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame; and Kristian Mark Saucier, a Navy sailor who took photos of classified areas inside a nuclear submarine.

On Wednesday, Trump commuted the sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, who was serving life in prison on drug charges, after reality star Kim Kardashian West lobbied the president in an Oval Office meeting to intervene on her behalf.

Trump has also hinted at pardoning lifestyle and home merchandise mogul Martha Stewart, who was convicted in 2004 on charges related to insider stock trading, and former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was sentenced in 2011 to 14 years in federal prison on corruption charges, including attempting to solicit bribes in exchange for President Barack Obama’s open Senate seat.

[NBC News]

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