WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has gone on a clemency blitz, commuting what he called a “ridiculous” 14-year prison sentence for former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and pardoning former New York Police Department commissioner Bernie Kerik, among a long list of others.
Others who got a break from Trump include financier Michael Milken, who served two years in prison in the early 1990s after pleading guilty to violating U.S. securities laws, and Edward DeBartolo Jr., the former San Francisco 49ers owner convicted in a gambling fraud scandal after building one of the most successful NFL teams in history.
In all, Trump took clemency actions related to 11 people, his latest interventions in the justice system as he is under growing fire for weighing in on the cases of former aides. Trump made clear that he saw similarities between efforts to investigate his own conduct and those who took down Blagojevich, a Democrat who appeared on Trump’s reality TV show, “Celebrity Apprentice.”
“It was a prosecution by the same people — Comey, Fitzpatrick, the same group,” Trump said. He was referring to Patrick Fitzgerald, the former U.S. attorney who prosecuted Blagojevich and now represents former FBI Director James Comey, whom Trump fired from the agency in May 2017.
The clemency actions come as an emboldened Trump continues to test the limits of his office now that impeachment is over. The actions drew alarm from Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. of New Jersey, who accused Trump of using his unfettered pardon power “to shield unrepentant felons, racists and corrupt scoundrels.”
Blagojevich was convicted on charges of political corruption, including seeking to sell an appointment to Barack Obama’s old Senate seat and trying to shake down a children’s hospital. But Trump said the former governor had been subjected to a “ridiculous sentence” that didn’t fit his crimes.
Trump also pardoned Kerik, who served just over three years for tax fraud and lying to the White House while being interviewed to serve as homeland security secretary. Trump’s White House lauded Kerik for having “courageously led the New York Police Department’s heroic response to the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001” and said that, “Since his conviction, he has focused on improving the lives of others, including as a passionate advocate for criminal justice and prisoner reentry reform.”