Trump says he’s ‘strongly considering’ a full pardon for Michael Flynn

President Donald Trump said Sunday he is “strongly considering” a full pardon of his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to the FBI as part of its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

It was unclear what sparked Trump’s tweet Sunday, which came amid the coronavirus outbreak. Trump said “it is reported that” the FBI and the Justice Department “lost” records related to Flynn. Flynn’s attorney, Sidney Powell, has accused the FBI of tampering with the interview notes of her client.

The Justice Department and the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment about what Trump was referring to.

Although he pleaded guilty in late 2017, admitting he lied to the FBI about conversations during the Trump transition period with Sergey Kislyak, then the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Flynn has sought to withdraw his guilty plea, alleging FBI misconduct. That has delayed his sentencing hearing, which had been scheduled to take place Feb. 27.

Last month, NBC News reported that the Justice Department had opened an inquiry into the FBI’s interview of Flynn while he briefly served as Trump’s national security adviser.

Attorney General William Barr asked the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri, Jeffrey Jensen, to review the matter, people familiar with the inquiry said.

In October, Trump tweeted that Flynn’s prosecution was “a disgrace.” Earlier last year, he asked “why was I not told” about Flynn’s being under investigation sooner “so that I could make a change?”

Barr’s efforts to take a heavier role in matters within the Justice Department that are of personal interest to the president, including the Flynn case and the sentencing of Trump associate Roger Stone, have come under scrutiny in recent months. Barr is set to testify later this month in front of the House Judiciary Committee about his personal involvement in cases relating to allies of the president (it’s unclear whether the coronavirus outbreak will delay the hearing).

Trump’s tweet Sunday comes nearly a month after he granted clemency to a series of people. He commuted the sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was serving a lengthy prison term on corruption charges. Trump also pardoned former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, who was sentenced in 2010 to four years in prison after pleading guilty to felony charges, including tax fraud and lying to White House officials.

[NBC News]

Trump Got Tons of Campaign Cash Before Handing Out Pardon

President Donald Trump on Tuesday granted clemency to 11 people, including several convicted felons who are either Fox News regulars or have been championed by the president’s favorite cable-news network. And in another case, the family of one pardon recipient dished out massive contributions to the president’s re-election campaign just months before Trump’s clemency spree.

Among those granted pardons or sentence commutations were former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was sentenced to 14 years in prison for attempting to sell former President Barack Obama’s Senate seat; former New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik, who was sentenced to four years in 2010 for tax fraud and lying to the feds; and Michael Milken, the “junk-bonds king” whose early-’90s insider-trading conviction made him a poster boy of white-collar crime.

Unsurprisingly, a key influence that led to Trump’s decision, particularly as it related to Blagojevich, was Fox News. The same could partly be said of the decision on Kerik, a frequent Fox News guest whose pardon was backed by several of the network’s stars; Milken, whose pardon was supported by Fox Business Network host and Trump loyalist Maria Bartiromo; and Angela Stanton, an occasional pro-Trump TV pundit whose pardon was pushed by frequent Fox News guest and evangelical leader Alveda King.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Trump made the Fox News connection abundantly clear, telling reporters that he decided to commute the rest of Blagojevich’s sentence because he’d seen the ex-governor’s wife Patti Blagojevich pleading her husband’s case on Fox.

“I watched his wife on television,” Trump declared, adding that he didn’t know the ex-governor “very well” despite Blagojevich’s appearances on The Celebrity Apprentice years ago.

In mid-2018, the president repeatedly asked close advisers to explore a Blagojevich pardon and, while doing so, emphatically referenced clips he’d seen on Fox, including a segment on informal Trump adviser Jeanine Pirro’s weekend show, according to two sources who independently discussed the matter with the president at the time.

According to liberal media-watchdog Media Matters for America, Patti Blagojevich took to Fox programming in April 2018 to push for her husband’s sentence to be reduced, making at least seven appearances on some of Trump’s favorite primetime shows such as Tucker Carlson Tonight and The Ingraham Angle.

The hosts, meanwhile, didn’t even bother with subtlety during the interviews. For instance, Tucker Carlson asked Mrs. Blagojevich what she would say “if you could speak to the president.” 

Kerik, meanwhile, has been a frequent guest of Fox News primetime programming for several years, generally offering on-air criticism of how Democrats handle New York City’s police department and criminal justice in general.

In what can generously be described as ironic, Kerik appeared the evening before his pardon on Tucker Carlson Tonight to rail against bail reform in New York while urging for harsher punishment for criminals, claiming crime was down when the police department increased arrests for “jumping turnstiles” and other low-level misdemeanors.

Kerik has also been used as a Trump-friendly critic of the so-called “deep state” on Fox News airwaves, at one point advocating for the arrest of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) for trying to carry out an “attempted coup” of Trump with the whistleblower complaint and impeachment inquiry.

According to the White House, Kerik’s pardon was supported by Fox News stars like Geraldo Rivera and Judge Andrew Napolitano. Additionally, the administration said, Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani—a frequent Fox News commentator and Kerik’s one-time boss—backed the decision.

Pirro, meanwhile, celebrated Kerik’s pardon and Blagojevich’s commutation on Twitter, personally thanking the president while declaring that “political prosecutions have no place in this country.”

The pro-Trump Fox News star, who brushed off Blagojevich’s crimes as “just practicing politics” in an April 2018 interview with Patti Blagojevich, has something of a sordid history with Kerik. Back in 2006, Pirro—who was then running as a Republican for New York attorney general—admitted she asked Kerik to bug her then-husband’s boat to see if he was having an affair after federal prosecutors began investigating whether she and Kerik illegally taped conversations.

While junk-bond king Michael Milken is not a Fox News regular by any measure, his pardon was backed by Bartiromo, yet another Fox star who has morphed into an unofficial mouthpiece of and adviser to President Trump. 

Additionally, Angela Stanton, who was pardoned for her role in a stolen luxury-vehicle ring, has appeared on Fox News as a pro-Trump commentator—much like her godmother Alveda King, who backed her pardon—often arguing that Democrats want more poor women of color to have abortions.

Appearances on Fox News and Fox Business—two of Trump’s favorite networks—are popular vessels for those seeking to make their cases for pardons or clemency directly to the president, a voracious consumer of TV and cable news.

The most prominent example was the sustained, successful on-air and behind-the-scenes campaign on Fox to lobby Trump to grant clemency to accused and convicted American war criminals. Fox & Friends Weekend host Pete Hegseth was a ringleader of that highly controversial effort.

“[Trump] knows how people play this game,” said one source close to the president. “He’s even told me before something to the effect of, ‘All these people keep getting themselves on Fox News begging me for a pardon,’ so he’s self-conscious about this stuff. But it doesn’t matter, it still has an effect on him.”

For those who didn’t receive the Fox News treatment, it appears that in at least one case, cold hard cash did the talking. Paul Pogue, a construction company owner who pleaded guilty to underpaying his taxes by $473,000 and received three years probation, was issued a full pardon and clemency by the president.

According to FEC filings, Pogue’s family has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in direct contributions and in-kind air travel to the Trump Victory Committee. Beginning in August 2019, Ben Pogue—CEO of Pogue Construction and son of Paul Pogue—and his wife Ashleigh made over $200,000 in contributions to the campaign.

In August alone, Ben Pogue donated $85,000 to Trump Victory while Ashleigh Pogue contributed $50,000 that month. The following month, Ben Pogue made an in-kind air travel contribution of $75,404.40. The couple also made several large donations to the Republican National Committee and each donated $5,600 to Donald Trump for President Inc.

On the day of their first donation to the Trump campaign, Ashleigh posted an Instagram photo of her and her husband posing with Donald Trump Jr. and his girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, at the Hamptons.

Prior to the Pogues’ sudden significant donating spree to Trump and the Republicans, the couple was not seen as big campaign spenders, having donated a few thousand dollars for Paul Ryan’s congressional campaign in 2017 and $5,400 for former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum’s 2016 Republican presidential run.

Notably, one of the advocates for Pogue’s clemency: Santorum, who is now a CNN contributor.

[The Daily Beast]

Trump pardons junk bond king Michael Milken

President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he was granting clemency to Michael Milken, the legendary bond king from the 1980s who served several years in prison for violating securities laws and has since become a prominent philanthropist.

Trump made the announcement to reporters Tuesday, along with the news that he was commuting the sentence of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich and pardoning ex-NYPD commissioner Bernard Kerik.

Milken rose to prominence on Wall Street in the 1980s as the head of the high-yield bond department, also known as junk bonds, at the now defunct firm Drexel Burnham Lambert.

But Milken was accused of taking part in an insider trading scheme and eventually pleaded guilty to several counts of securities violations tied to a scandal with former stock trader Ivan Boesky. He also paid a $600 million fine and was banned from the securities industry.

Milken was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 1990 and served 22 months. Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani, a former United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, was one of the main prosecutors at that time, although he did not prosecute Milken.

Since his release from prison in 1993, Milken, now 73 and a survivor of prostate cancer, has become a major donor to charities funding cancer research. He also started up the Milken Institute, a leading nonprofit and non-partisan economic research firm that holds a major conference every spring attended by many A-listers in the world of finance.

In comments to reporters Tuesday, Trump said that Milken has “done an incredible job for the world with all his research on cancer” and that “he’s suffered greatly. He paid a big price.”

Milken said in a statement on his website that his family is “very grateful to the president.”

“We look forward to many more years of pursuing our efforts in medical research, education and public health,” Milken added.

[CNN]

Trump pardons Bernard Kerik

President Donald Trump on Tuesday pardoned Bernard Kerik, the former New York police commissioner who rose to national fame in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and was later sentenced to four years in prison after pleading guilty to felony charges including tax fraud and lying to White House officials.

The White House announced Tuesday that Trump had granted a full pardon to Kerik, as well as a commutation for disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

The White House said in a statement that since Kerik’s conviction, “he has focused on improving the lives of others, including as a passionate advocate for criminal justice and prisoner re-entry reform.”

“His 30 years of law enforcement service and tenure as Commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction have given him a unique understanding and perspective on criminal justice and prisoner re-entry reform, and he remains an invaluable contributor to these endeavors.”

Kerik was sentenced to four years in prison in 2010 after pleading guilty to eight felony charges for offenses including failure to pay taxes and lying to White House officials during a failed nomination to be Homeland Security secretary.

An Army veteran, Kerik once worked on Rudy Giuliani’s security detail when Giuliani was mayor. Giuliani made Kerik commissioner of the city’s Department of Correction, and in 2000 named him police commissioner. The pair worked side by side on Sept. 11, 2001.

The fall of Kerik’s career began when President George W. Bush nominated him to lead the Department of Homeland Security.

Kerik abruptly withdrew his name, citing questions raised about the immigration status of a former housekeeper and nanny.

Prosecutors would later say that Kerik gave “false and misleading statements” to White House officials while being vetted for that position.

The federal case centered on charges that he had received more than $250,000 in renovations for his Bronx apartment from a construction company suspected of having ties to organized crime and helping the company’s bids for city contracts.

Kerik admitted to contacting New York City regulators about the company, named Interstate. Prosecutors said Kerik did not report the value of the renovations on his federal tax returns and made false statements about the renovations and his relationship with Interstate to White House officials.

Judge Stephen Robinson of U.S. District Court in White Plains, New York, sentenced Kerik to four years, exceeding the sentencing guidelines of less than three years.

“I think it’s fair to say that with great power comes great responsibility and great consequences,” Judge Robinson said at the time. “I think the damage caused by Mr. Kerik is in some ways immeasurable.”

He was also sentenced to three years of supervised release and ordered to pay nearly $188,000 in restitution.

“It is a very sad day when the former commissioner of the greatest police department in the world is sentenced to prison for base criminal conduct,” Preet Bharara, then U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement at the time.

Prior to the federal case, Kerik pleaded guilty in New York State Supreme Court in 2006 for two misdemeanors related to the renovations and was fined but did not receive jail time.

He was released from federal prison in 2013 after serving three years.

Since Kerik’s release, he’s become an advocate for prison reform and a frequent presence and Trump advocate on Fox News.

Kerik has also worked as a strategist for Navy SEAL Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, who was accused of war crimes for the fatal stabbing of a wounded fighter of the Islamic State extremist group. In July, Gallagher was found not guilty by a military court of six of the seven charges against him, including murder and attempted murder.

Last week, a former associate of Kerik’s was arrested and charged with counts that include extortion, sex trafficking, forced labor and money laundering in connection with alleged crimes against students from Sarah Lawrence College, according to an unsealed indictment.

Lawrence Ray was the best man at Kerik’s wedding before the two had a falling out and Ray eventually served as a cooperating witness in an investigation against Kerik.

On Tuesday afternoon, Kerik thanked Trump in a statement.

“With the exception of the birth of my children, today is one of the greatest days in my life — being made a full and whole American citizen again,” he wrote. “Going to prison is like dying with your eyes open. Its aftermath of collateral consequences and the permanent loss of many of your civil and constitutional rights are personally devastating.”

“This pardon restores those rights, for which I will be eternally grateful,” he said.

[NBC News]

Trump commutes sentence of former Ill. Gov. Rod Blagojevich

President Donald Trump announced Tuesday that he had commuted the prison sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was impeached and removed from office in 2009 on corruption charges, and pardoned former New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik.

A federal spokesman said Tuesday night that Blagojevich had been released and was no longer in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

The news came hours after Trump signed an executive order granting a full pardon to former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. related to a decades-old corruption charge, one of nearly a dozen pardons and commutations the White House announced Tuesday.

Another big name on the list was that of Michael Milken, the former junk bond trader who pleaded guilty in 1990 to racketeering and securities fraud. The man who prosecuted Milken was one of the people who advocated for his pardon, according to the White House — Rudy Giuliani, one of the president’s personal lawyers.

Giuliani also advocated for a pardon for Kerik, who was Giuliani’s hand-picked police commissioner when he was mayor of New York. Kerik was sentenced in 2010 to four years in prison after pleading guilty to eight felony charges, including tax fraud.

Blagojevich, 63, was sentenced in 2011 to 14 years in federal prison on corruption charges related to his solicitation of bribes in an attempt to “sell” the Senate seat Barack Obama left open after he was elected president.

Trump, who has repeatedly floated the idea of pardoning Blagojevich, told reporters that he had received “a tremendously powerful, ridiculous sentence.”

“He served eight years in jail, a long time,” Trump told reporters at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland. “I don’t know him very well. I met him a couple of times. He was on for a short while on ‘The Apprentice’ some years ago. He seems like a very nice person. I don’t know him.”

Trump said “many people” thought the sentence was unfair. “He’ll be able to go back home to his family,” he added.

Blagojevich, a Democrat, had been at the low-security Federal Correctional Institute in Englewood, Colorado. He’d been a contestant on Trump’s reality TV show “The Celebrity Apprentice” in 2010.

The president said in August that he was “very strongly” considering giving Blagojevich a reprieve.

“I’m thinking about commuting his sentence very strongly,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One then.

“He’s been in jail for seven years, over a phone call where nothing happens … over a phone call where, you know, he shouldn’t have said what he said, but it was braggadocio, you would say. 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 telephones,” he added.

In one wiretapped phone call, Blagojevich said of Obama’s Senate seat: “I’ve got this thing and it’s f—— golden. And I’m just not giving it up for f—— nothing.”

The current Democratic governor of Illinois, J.B. Pritzker, took to Twitter to blast the pardon.

“President Trump has abused his pardon power in inexplicable ways to reward his friends and condone corruption, and I deeply believe this pardon sends the wrong message at the wrong time,” Pritzker tweeted.

Prosecutors said Blagojevich and others working for him began “a pattern of racketeering activity” soon after he took office in 2002, using the powers of the governorship in “exchange for financial benefits for themselves and others.”

He was arrested in late 2008 on allegations that he had tried to profit from selling off Obama’s open Senate seat, and he was impeached in January 2009 after he refused to resign.

Blagojevich was convicted in federal court in Chicago later that year on one of 24 felony counts — lying to the FBI about the extent of his involvement in campaign fundraising. Jurors deadlocked on the other counts.

At his 2011 retrial, he was convicted of three separate shakedown attempts — one involving a children’s hospital, one involving a racetrack and one involving the Senate seat.

In between his trials, he tried to rehabilitate his image and signed up as a contestant on “The Celebrity Apprentice” in 2010. He was “fired” after four episodes after bungling a Harry Potter presentation.

[NBC News]

Trump pardons former 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo Jr.

President Donald Trump has pardoned Edward DeBartolo Jr., the former San Francisco 49ers owner convicted in a gambling fraud scandal.

DeBartolo, 73, who helped to build the 49ers’ dynasty of the 1980s and ’90s, was involved in one of the biggest owners’ scandals in the sport’s history.

In 1998, he pleaded guilty to failing to report a felony when he paid $400,000 to former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards in exchange for a riverboat gambling license.

The White House announced the surprise decision to reporters on Tuesday. NFL greats Jerry Rice, Jim Brown, Ronnie Lott and Charles Haley were in attendance.

DeBartolo, whose 49ers won five Super Bowls under his leadership, stepped down as owner in 1997 after two Louisiana newspapers reported he would be indicted for gambling fraud. He avoided prison, was fined $1 million and was suspended for a year by the NFL. But the episode effectively ended his NFL career.

Rice, a Pro Football Hall of Famer who played on three of DeBartolo’s Super Bowl-winning teams, said DeBartolo “was like that 12th man” of the great 49ers teams.

“He’s the main reason why we won so many Super Bowls,” Rice said. “So today is a great day for him. I’m glad to be here and be a part of that. It’s just something I will never forget. This man, he has done so much in the community, has done so much in NFL football.”

DeBartolo withdrew from the riverboat project after the state gambling board demanded he hand over all documents he gave to the grand jury. The documents included an “unexecuted agreement” between DeBartolo and Stephen Edwards, according to a copy of a grand jury subpoena obtained by the newspapers.

The state gambling board canceled the project after DeBartolo withdrew.

The DeBartolo family built their fortune through commercial real estate — mostly owning shopping malls. The family business was started by DeBartolo’s father, who died in 1994. In addition to the 49ers, the family also owned the Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League before selling the team in 1991.

DeBartolo Jr. ran the 49ers starting in 1977, and his hiring of coach Bill Walsh in 1979 led to the franchise’s most successful era. From 1982 to 1995, the team won five Super Bowls.

After the suspension, DeBartolo gave control of the team to his sister, Denise DeBartolo York.

He never returned to the NFL after his suspension. The team is now run by his nephew, Jed York.

DeBartolo was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016.

[ESPN]

Reality

Eddie DeBartolo is a longtime friend of Donald Trump who donated to his inauguration in 2017.

DOJ set to lower Stone sentencing recommendation that was criticized by Trump

The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Tuesday is reportedly expected to change its sentencing recommendation for Roger Stone a day after telling a federal judge the Trump associate should serve between seven and nine years in prison, guidance that was sharply criticized by President Trump.

Department officials found prosecutors’ initial recommendation “excessive,” according to multiple news outlets, including The Washington Post, Fox News and The Associated Press, citing an anonymous department source.

Reports of the expected change came after Trump denounced the recommended prison term as “horrible and very unfair” in an early Tuesday morning Tweet.  

“The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them. Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!” Trump said, sharing a message from a Daily Caller reporter about Stone’s prison sentence.

Stone, a 67 year-old right-wing provocateur, was convicted in November of seven counts of obstructing and lying to Congress and witness tampering related to his efforts to provide the Trump campaign inside information about WikiLeaks in 2016.

Stone is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 20 by D.C. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, an Obama appointee.

Prosecutors recommended in a Monday filing that Stone serve between 87 and 108 months in prison in accordance with federal guidelines.

“Roger Stone obstructed Congress’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, lied under oath, and tampered with a witness,” the DOJ court filing reads. “And when his crimes were revealed by the indictment in this case, he displayed contempt for this Court and the rule of law.”

Department prosecutors wrote that a sentence of up to nine years would “accurately reflect the seriousness of his crimes and promote respect for the law.”

Stone’s attorneys in a Monday night filing asked that the judge impose probation as an alternative to prison.

A Stone lawyer on Tuesday said the legal team had “read with interest” the new reporting on the DOJ’s shifting position.

“Our sentencing memo stated our position on the recommendation made yesterday by the government,” attorney Grant Smith told The Hill. “We look forward to reviewing the government’s supplemental filing.”

The department will reportedly clarify its recommendation on Stone’s sentencing later Tuesday.

[The Hill]

Trump pardons and reinstates three more war criminals against his own DOD

U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday pardoned two Army officers accused of war crimes in Afghanistan and restored the rank of a Navy SEAL platoon commander who was demoted for actions in Iraq, a move critics have said would undermine military justice and send a message that battlefield atrocities will be tolerated.

The White House said in a statement Trump granted full pardons to First Lieutenant Clint Lorance and Major Mathew Golsteyn, and ordered that the rank Edward Gallagher held before he was convicted in a military trial this year be restored.

“For more than two hundred years, presidents have used their authority to offer second chances to deserving individuals, including those in uniform who have served our country. These actions are in keeping with this long history,” the statement said.

A Pentagon spokesperson said the Department of Defense has confidence in the military justice system.

“The President is part of the military justice system as the Commander-in-Chief and has the authority to weigh in on matters of this nature,” the spokesperson said.

In recent weeks, Pentagon officials had spoken with Trump about the cases, provided facts and emphasized the due process built into the military justice system.

The White House said in a statement Trump granted full pardons to First Lieutenant Clint Lorance and Major Mathew Golsteyn, and ordered that the rank Edward Gallagher held before he was convicted in a military trial this year be restored.

“For more than two hundred years, presidents have used their authority to offer second chances to deserving individuals, including those in uniform who have served our country. These actions are in keeping with this long history,” the statement said.

A Pentagon spokesperson said the Department of Defense has confidence in the military justice system.

“The President is part of the military justice system as the Commander-in-Chief and has the authority to weigh in on matters of this nature,” the spokesperson said.

In recent weeks, Pentagon officials had spoken with Trump about the cases, provided facts and emphasized the due process built into the military justice system.

But presidents have occasionally granted pardons preemptively to individuals accused of or suspected of a crime.

The most famous such case was the blanket pardon President Gerald Ford bestowed on his predecessor, Richard Nixon, after Nixon’s resignation during the Watergate scandal in 1974.

[Reuters]

Trump Trashes WaPo, Denies Report He Promised Pardons to Officials If They Broke Law to Build the Wall

President Donald Trump blasted the Washington Post on Twitter this afternoon over reporting that he promised pardons to officials who would have to break the law to get the border wall done.

The Post reported Trump is frustrated with the pace of progress and desperate to get the wall built ahead of the 2020 election, and so he dismissed concerns about eminent domain, telling people to “take the land” and if they get in trouble “don’t worry, I’ll pardon you.”

Trump denied the report and claimed the Post made it up “in order to demean and disparage”:

A White House official responded to the Post saying that “Trump is joking when he makes such statements about pardons.”

[Mediaite]

Trump’s Unpardonable Admission About His Border Wall

Disagreements about what the law really means are unavoidable. Congress passes laws, government agencies interpret them, advocates dispute those interpretations, and then the courts step in to resolve the arguments.

But that’s not what’s happening with President Trump’s latest push on his border wall. The Washington Post reports that Trump is frantically urging aides to get construction on his border wall underway, overriding their objections that this might require breaking environmental laws, violating contracting rules, or improperly claiming private land. Why? Not because he believes his wall is necessary for national security. Not because he believes he is right about the law, and his aides’ concerns are misplaced. He doesn’t even believe the wall will actually solve an immigration crisis. Trump is urging action on the wall because he believes it is necessary for him to win reelection.

The tell here is that, as the Post reports, Trump “has told worried subordinates that he will pardon them of any potential wrongdoing should they have to break laws to get the barriers built quickly, those officials said.”

Running for office, Trump said he would build a wall and Mexico would pay for it, a claim he quickly abandoned. When Congress repeatedly refused to give him money for the wall, he mounted an end-run around Congress, declaring a national emergency. Because Congress has unwisely delegated some of its powers to the president through the National Emergencies Act, he may succeed in defeating legal challenges, since courts tend to give the executive wide latitude to determine what is and isn’t a national emergency.

But Trump keeps undermining the legal rationale for his action. As the Postreports:

Trump conceded last year in an immigration meeting with lawmakers that a wall or barrier is not the most effective mechanism to curb illegal immigration, recognizing it would accomplish less than a major expansion of U.S. enforcement powers and deportation authority. But he told lawmakers that his supporters want a wall and that he has to deliver it.

Other Trump moves also show how unseriously he treats the idea that the wall is a necessary response to a national emergency, and not an enormously expensive campaign prop. He has repeatedly overruled suggestions made by officials because he wants the wall to look a certain way. Trump insists that the wall be painted black and be topped with spikes, even though this will add to the expense, reducing the number of miles that current funds can be used to build. And although the Department of Homeland Security favors including flat panels that can deter climbers, Trump thinks they look too ugly.

This is part of a pattern: Trump declares some far-fetched objective. Administration lawyers concoct a tortured legal rationale to justify it. And then Trump makes clear how pretextual that rationale is. Perhaps the first example was the president’s Muslim ban, but the pattern has repeated itself ever since.

The dangled pardons are especially galling because they underscore how Trump prioritizes winning reelection at any cost over actually following the laws he swore to uphold in his oath of office. Asked about the pardon suggestion by the Post, a White House aide didn’t deny it, but “said Trump is joking when he makes such statements about pardons.”

Well, maybe. The Trump administration has a long record of making outrageous statements and then insisting after the fact that they were only kidding. Beyond that, the president has already on at least one occasionpromised a pardon to a Customs and Border Patrol official if he was convicted of a crime, and he has also demonstrated his willingness to hand out politically motivated, manifestly undeserved pardons.

Pushing hard to build a border wall carries other dangers for Trump. Though he has had great success in reorienting the Republican Party around some of his other priorities, especially trade, eminent domain remains a controversial and widely disliked maneuver that could alienate conservatives along the border. But the president may be right that actually building the wall is crucial for his reelection effort, and his failure to actually build a single mile of new fencing—as opposed to upgrading current barriers—is a huge political problem for him.  (Even the hurry-up effort described in the Post is relatively insignificant: Only 110 of the 450 miles officials say they’ll finish by Election Day 2020 are new, while the rest replaces existing fencing.)

Trump is not the first president willing to knowingly break the law to win reelection. He is, however, unusually open about it. If the wall gambit works, it will reinforce the idea that lawbreaking is an effective campaign tactic, and that politics comes before fidelity to the Constitution.

The real threat to the national security of the United States isn’t on the southern side of the Mexican border.

[The Atlantic]

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