By Robert A. Vella
Predictably, Donald Trump has begun issuing what is likely to be a barrage of presidential pardons for corrupt white-collar criminals just like himself. The clemencies handed out on Tuesday appear to set up more high-profile pardons to come for Trump’s convicted henchmen including political dirty-trickster Roger Stone, former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, and former campaign manager Paul Manafort. Here are brief profiles for the three most infamous criminals granted clemency yesterday:
- Rod Blagojevich has served 8 years of a 14 year sentence for precisely the same offense Trump was impeached for – i.e. abusing the power of his public office (i.e. governor of Illinois) for personal gain.
- Bernard Kerik has already served his 4 year prison sentence and 3 year probation sentence after pleading guilty to tax fraud and lying to investigators in 2009. His tenure as New York City police commissioner was under the Rudy Giuliani administration.
- Michael Milken, whose junk bond dealings contributed to the collapse of the savings-and-loan industry, pleaded guilty to securities fraud in 1989 but later had his 10 year prison sentence reduced to 2 years for good behavior.
Let’s get right to that story plus other news which includes more indications of trouble for Trump’s reelection prospects.
WASHINGTON — President Trump, citing what he said was advice from friends and business associates, granted clemency on Tuesday to a who’s who of white-collar criminals from politics, sports and business who were convicted on charges involving fraud, corruption and lies — including the financier Michael R. Milken.
The president pardoned Mr. Milken, the so-called junk bond king of the 1980s, as well as the former New York City police commissioner Bernard B. Kerik and Edward J. DeBartolo Jr., a former owner of the San Francisco 49ers. He also commuted the sentence of Rod R. Blagojevich, a former Democratic governor of Illinois.
Their political and finance schemes made them household names, and three received prison terms while Mr. DeBartolo paid a $1 million fine.
Mr. Trump also pardoned David Safavian, the top federal procurement official under President George W. Bush, who had been sentenced in 2009 to a year in prison for lying about his ties to the lobbyist Jack Abramoff and obstructing the sprawling investigation into Mr. Abramoff’s efforts to win federal business. The president also granted clemency to six other people.
But the president’s announcements on Tuesday were mostly aimed at wiping clean the slates of rich, powerful and well-connected white men.
Illinois’s Republican congressional delegation criticized President Trump’s decision Tuesday to commute former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s (D) sentence, saying he is “the face of public corruption” in the state.
“We are disappointed by the president’s commutation of Rod Blagojevich’s federal sentence. We believe he received an appropriate and fair sentence, which was the low end of the federal sentencing guidelines for the gravity of his public corruption convictions,” wrote Reps. Darin LaHood, John Shimkus, Adam Kinzinger, Rodney Davis and Mike Bost.
Blagojevich was removed from office in 2009 and was later convicted on corruption charges, including trying to sell former President Obama’s Senate seat after he was elected to the White House in 2008. The former governor began serving a 14-year prison sentence in 2012.
Defying Mr. Barr’s pleas, the president renewed his public attacks on law enforcement on Tuesday, denouncing the prosecutors, judge and jury forewoman in the case of his longtime friend Roger J. Stone Jr. and defending his convicted former adviser Michael T. Flynn against Mr. Trump’s own Justice Department.
Explicitly rebuffed, Mr. Barr was left by the end of the day to consider his own future. He expressed dissatisfaction to associates and his irritation soon fed news reports that he was considering resignation if the president continued to publicly weigh in on individual prosecutions of his own associates. But it was unclear whether that would persuade Mr. Trump to back off or only get his back up.
The suggestions of resignation came at the end of a day when the president asserted his dominance over a justice system that had long sought to insulate itself from political pressures. Calling himself “the chief law enforcement officer of the country,” Mr. Trump demanded a new trial for Mr. Stone, urged federal judges to address the “tremendous” abuse of the special counsel investigation of his campaign and bypassed the traditional pardon process to grant clemency to celebrity convicts recommended by his friends, allies and political donors.
Former Deputy Attorney General Donald Ayer called his former colleague, Attorney General William Barr, “un-American” because he thinks the president is above the law.
“The reason I say he’s un-American…is that the central tenet of our legal system and our justice system is that no person is above the law,” Ayer told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Monday. “Bill Barr’s vision is that there is one man—one person—who needs to be above the law, and that is the president.”
Having known Barr for 40 years, Ayer told Blitzer that there was never a reason to “test” Barr’s “very strong view” that the president “ought to have a great deal of power” during President George H.W. Bush’s administration because the president “had no interest in being an autocrat.” Now, with Trump, who Ayer said “apparently wants to be an autocrat,” in office, Barr’s “carried out” his vision.
John Rood has stepped down as the top policy official at the Defense Department, according to two people familiar with the matter.
The senior Pentagon official had faced pressure to resign from key figures who lost confidence in his ability to carry out President Donald Trump’s agenda, according to multiple administration officials who requested anonymity to speak about Rood’s departure.
Rood was under secretary of Defense for policy, a post he held since January 2018. He was the official who certified in May to Congress that Ukraine was eligible to receive $250 million in security assistance. That aid was temporarily blocked by the White House, a decision at the center of Trump’s impeachment.
SAN DIEGO (AP) — The Trump administration said Tuesday that it will waive federal contracting laws to speed construction of a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The Department of Homeland Security said waiving procurement regulations will allow 177 miles (283 kilometers) of wall to be built more quickly in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. The 10 waived laws include requirements for having open competition, justifying selections and receiving all bonding from a contractor before any work can begin.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Hoisting the spoils of victories in California’s hard-fought water wars, President Donald Trump is directing more of the state’s precious water to wealthy farmers and other agriculture interests when he visits their Republican Central Valley stronghold Wednesday.
Changes by the Trump administration are altering how federal authorities decide who gets water, and how much, in California, the U.S. state with the biggest population and economy and most lucrative farm output. Climate change promises to only worsen the state’s droughts and water shortages, raising the stakes.
NEW YORK — As Republican President Donald Trump seeks a second term in November, Americans’ interest in voting is growing faster in large cities dominated by Democrats than in conservative rural areas, according to an analysis of Reuters/Ipsos national opinion polls.
If the trend lasts until Election Day on Nov. 3, it would be a reversal from the 2016 election when rural turnout outpaced voting in urban areas, helping Trump narrowly win the White House.
The finding, based on responses from more than 88,000 U.S. adults who took the online poll from August to December 2015 or from August to December 2019, suggests that the “Blue Wave,” a swell of anti-Trump activism that followed his entry into the White House in 2017, is still rolling across the country’s largest population centers.
Even as Trump commands rock-solid support among Republicans, voters’ interest in going to the polls appears to be growing faster among those who disapprove of Trump than among those who approve of him, according to experts who reviewed the data.
The advantage in urban political engagement extends deep into the most competitive battleground states that Trump won by razor-thin margins four years ago, the data shows.
In large urban areas of the upper Midwest, a region that includes swing states Michigan and Wisconsin, for example, the number of people who said they were “certain” to vote in the upcoming presidential election rose by 10 percentage points to 67% compared with survey responses from 2015.
Secretary of State Michael Adams announced Tuesday that 3,462,152 people are registered to vote as of Jan. 31.
Adams said Democrats represent 48 percent of that total, with 1,678,538 registered voters, while Republicans represent 43 percent, with 1,477,985 registered voters. Around 9% of voters are listed under other affiliations.
An anti-government movement that advocates for a violent uprising targeting liberal political opponents and law enforcement has moved from the fringes of the internet into the mainstream in recent months and surged on social media, according to a group of researchers that tracks hate groups.
The movement, which says it wants a second Civil War organized around the term “boogaloo,” now includes groups on mainstream internet platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Reddit as well as fringe websites including 4chan, according to a report released Tuesday night by the Network Contagion Research Institute (NCRI), an independent non-profit of scientists and engineers that tracks and reports on misinformation and hate speech across social media.