President Trump pardoned a load of dodgy felons yesterday, and commuted sentences for others.
The dishonorable list included shamed junk bond king Michael Milken, disgraced former NYPD commissioner Bernard Kerik and corrupt politician Rod R. Blagojevich.
All of this is thoroughly distasteful and makes an absolute mockery of 2016 presidential candidate Donald Trump’s oft-spoken desire to ‘drain the swamp’.
It doesn’t get any more ‘swampy’ than a governor jailed for soliciting bribes for political appointments including Barack Obama’s vacant U.S. Senate seat after Obama became President in 2008.
As Governor of Illinois, Obama’s state, Blagojevich held the sole authority to name Obama’s successor, and he saw a big money-making opportunity.
President Trump pardoned a load of dodgy felons yesterday, and commuted sentences for others
Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich after a news conference outside his home Wednesday in Chicago. Trump commuted his sentence for soliciting bribes for political appointments including Barack Obama’s vacant U.S. Senate seat after Obama became President in 2008
Blagojevich was caught on an FBI wire-tap saying: ‘I’ve got this thing, and it’s f*cking golden. I’m just not giving it up for f*cking nothing.’
Among the other 17 charges on which he was convicted was one of extortion relating to Illinois state funds being directed towards a children’s hospital.
Blagojevich held up $8 million in an effort to get the CEO of the hospital to hold a $25,000 campaign fundraiser.
Nice guy, eh?
Or you might think he represents the very worst type of Washington swamp corruption that Trump vowed to eradicate.
Yet President Trump has now commuted Blagojevich’s sentence meaning he will now only serve eight of the 12 years he should have served in prison.
To give you some idea of how unpopular this decision was, Illinois House Republican leader Jim Durkin raged: ‘It’s very disappointing. We have a massive federal investigation into corruption in the state of Illinois and this action distracts and dilutes what I think is the proper role of the Department of Justice – to root out corruption. I saw a governor who was rogue on steroids who abused the office. I think this is wrong and sends a bad message to the country that you don’t have to pay your debt to society. This governor did some terrible things.’
Yes, he did, and Blagojevich is about the last person in America deserving of a commutation of his sentence.
The dishonorable list included disgraced former NYPD commissioner Bernard Kerik
Trump tweeted this photo after pardoning Eddie J. DeBartolo Jr., the former San Francisco 49ers owner convicted in a gambling fraud scandal
However, what Trump did is perfectly legal.
We might find it awful, and rankly hypocritical given the President’s ‘I’ll drain the swamp’ mantra and his insistence that the whole Ukraine ‘quid pro quo’ scandal was predicated on his high-minded desire to root out corruption.
But, and it’s a very important ‘but’, he is perfectly entitled to do it.
It’s the legal right of any president, and all Trump’s predecessors have done similar things – from Bill Clinton pardoning corrupt financier Marc Rich to Obama letting out Chelsea Manning who leaked US military secrets to WikiLeaks.
Of far greater significance, and concern, is something else that President Trump did yesterday. Or rather, something else he said.
Last Thursday, the US Attorney General William Barr went public in an explosive ABC interview with this explicit warning to the President to stop posting inflammatory tweets about Justice Department case: ‘To have public statements and tweets about the department, about our people in the department, our men and women here, about cases pending in the department, and about judges before whom we have cases, makes it impossible to do my job.’
He added that the President’s comments were ‘disruptive’ and ‘background commentary that undercuts me.’
Barr was moved to speak out after Trump unleashed a barrage of tweets attacking the conviction of his friend and former advisor Roger Stone, who was found guilty of charges arising from the Mueller Report into alleged Russian collusion into the 2016 election including lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstruction – and who is due to be sentenced tomorrow.
Barr received support from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who said: ‘The attorney general knows what he’s talking about. I think he’s doing a good job and I think he’s told the president, this is not helpful, making it difficult for him to do his job. I think the president will listen to him.’
Sadly, he didn’t.
US Attorney General William Barr said the President’s comments were ‘disruptive’ and ‘background commentary that undercuts me’
Instead, President Trump said he had ‘total confidence in my attorney general’, declared he was ‘doing an excellent job’, called him ‘a man with great integrity’ – and then completely ignored his warning, firing off yet more tweets about Stone.
Yesterday, Trump attacked Stone’s prosecutors, judge and jury forewoman and fumed: ‘Everything to do with this fraudulent case is badly tainted and should be thrown out.’
It’s hard to imagine a bigger two-fingered snub to his attorney general than this. Particularly as Barr has been one of Trump’s most loyal allies.
But it’s what Trump said to justify it that really alarmed me.
‘I’m actually, I guess, the chief law enforcement officer of the country,’ he proclaimed to reporters before flying to the West Coast for some fund-raisers.
But he’s not.
The Attorney General, a position established by an act of Congress in 1789, is the chief law enforcement officer of America’s federal government.
That is explicitly stated on the Department of Justice website, and also on the White House’s own website when it describes the role of the AG.
The President’s job is to implement laws, not to enforce them.
By assuming a greater power than he has, President Trump threatens to imperil the very foundation of American democracy because he is effectively attempting to place himself above the law and ignore the Constitution’s clear intent to separate powers among the three branches of government.
Understandably, AG Barr is furious that Trump continues to defy his perfectly justified warnings.
Three Trump administration officials told the Washington Post that he is seriously contemplating resigning from the post.
‘Barr has his limits, one said.
I don’t blame him.
It must be incredibly hard for anyone to operate as attorney general with a president who considers himself above the law of the land.
My message to President Trump is this: I know you’re furious about the Russia collusion fiasco and the fact it destroyed the lives of so many of your friends despite finding no evidence of any actual collusion.
You have good reason to be angry; I don’t defend any of the peripheral illegal behavior that was uncovered, including by Roger Stone, but the central allegation of the investigation turned out to be the hysterical fake news witch-hunt you said it was from the start.
However, your ongoing attempts to interfere with the Justice Department’s work, and the damage you’re doing to the attorney general’s ability to do his job and to his personal credibility, even after he has expressly warned you to stop, are completely unacceptable.
Pack it in, Mr President – or you will destroy American democracy.