“President Trump bypassed the formal and orderly Justice Department process in favor of an informal and fairly chaotic White House operation, relying in some cases on his personal views and in others on recommendations from people he knew or who gained access to him in various ways,” Margaret Love, a former U.S. pardon attorney, told ABC News.
“So it might have been predicted,” she added, “that some who made it through that lax gauntlet were going to get in trouble again.”
Steve Bannon got a Trump pardon for his involvement in a scammy “We Build the Wall” fundraising campaign. He’s now under investigation for that same fraud in New York state—and at the federal level, he has since been convicted of criminal contempt of Congress. The latter points to why Trump would have pardoned Bannon: He was at least peripherally involved in Trump’s coup attempt and he was too loyal, or saw his self-interest lying too much with Trump, to comply with a subpoena from the Jan. 6 committee. Trump allies Roger Stone and Michael Flynn, both of whom got pardons for lying to Congress and federal investigators, respectively, are both involved in investigations into Trump’s 2020-2021 coup attempt.
In a similar vein, Trump pardoned Republican operative Jesse Benton for a campaign finance violation—and last month, Benton was convicted of another campaign finance violation. This time, it was illegally funneling Russian money to Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Ken Kurson, a buddy of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, didn’t commit political crimes. He was a stalker with three victims. Since his pardon, he pleaded guilty to two state-level misdemeanors—this charmer put spyware on his ex-wife’s computer. Another Trump clemency action that didn’t go to a Republican operative working on his behalf was all about celebrity. He commuted rapper Kodak Black’s sentence for lying on paperwork involved in buying guns; Black has since pleaded not guilty to felony drug charges.
Trump used his clemency power not to find people who had suffered from having inadequate legal counsel or as a result of harsh sentencing laws with disparate racial impacts, but to give his allies a free pass for crimes they committed in pushing his political interests. He didn’t offer mercy to the powerless, he offered it the well-connected and high-profile. He didn’t stop to think about merit or risk or following a process. The results are predictable. And it’s terribly sad, because so many people are stuck in federal prisons on ridiculously harsh sentences who should have a second chance and the freedom to try to build new lives for themselves. They deserved the mercy people like Bannon took as license to keep doing wrong.