Trump Pardons Manafort and Others of His Inner Circle

Paul Manafort arrives in court on June 27, 2019 in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Outgoing President Donald Trump issued a pardon to former campaign manager-turned-convict Paul Manafort on Wednesday.

Manafort was convicted in August 2018 in a federal court in Virginia on eight counts of bank and tax fraud, failing to file a report for a foreign bank account and falsifying his income on federal tax returns.

The president also issued pardons to Charles Kushner, father of Jared Kushner, and Roger Stone, a long time loyalist to President Trump, friend and former business partner of Paul Manafort.

During his trial, prosecutors unraveled Manafort’s role in hiding millions of dollars that flowed through a complex web of foreign bank accounts; records of funds that he often had doctored to defraud tax preparers and bankers.

He was sentenced to four years by U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis, well below the initial sentence recommended by special counsel’s recommendation of 19 to 24 years.

Manafort was released from prison this May after his attorney pleaded with a federal judge for the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia to release the former lobbyist due to concerns over the novel coronavirus. 

Manafort contracted the flu and bronchitis while he was detained at the Federal Correctional Institution in Loretto, Pennsylvania this spring.

Roger Stone was convicted by a federal jury in Washington, D.C. last November on multiple charges including lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstructing the House of Representatives investigation into Russian interference of the 2016 election. 

Though sentencing guidelines for Stone recommended a maximum of 50 years, prosecutors only recommended seven to eight. Stone was ultimately only sentenced to 40 months.

But right before he was headed federal prison in July, the president commuted Stone’s sentence, sparing him of any jail time. Stone has maintained his innocence. When the Department of Justice first issued its sentencing memorandum for his friend, Trump wasted no time commenting from his perch on Twitter calling the recommendation a “horrible and very unfair situation.”

“Cannot allow miscarriage of justice!” Trump wrote in February.

It was the second time the president sounded off his sympathy publicly for Stone while he faced prosecutors.

Charles Kushner, Jared Kushner’s father, billionaire, and real estate developer, served two years in prison for defrauding the federal government and filing bogus tax returns where he claimed campaign contributions as business expenses. The elder Kushner also lied to investigators and the Federal Election Commission about his donations.

The investigation into Kushner that led to his conviction revealed a world of sordid and bitter infighting among the Kushners, particularly Charles and his brother-in-law, William Schulder. 

When federal prosecutors began probing into illegal campaign contributions and sought out Schulder, he turned witness. In retaliation for this betrayal, prosecutors revealed in court, Charles Kushner hired a sex worker to seduce Schulder in a New Jersey motel room. The encounter was secretly filmed by Kushner and the tape was sent to Schulder’s wife — Kushner’s sister — Esther.

Schulder turned on Kushner anyway.

In addition to Stone, Manafort and Kushner, the president also issued pardons to 23 other people as he flew from the White House to his Florida golf club, Mar-a-Lago, for the holidays. 

Some of those pardoned Wednesday include Margaret Hunter, wife of the disgraced former California Republican Representative Duncan Hunter. Hunter and his wife pleaded guilty to misusing campaign funds. Duncan Hunter was sentenced to 11 months in prison in March for his misuse of $150,000. Ahead of his wife’s commutation Wednesday, Duncan Hunter too was pardoned by Trump.

Like Wednesday’s batch of commutations, Tuesday’s list resembled something like a highlight reel of prominent figures once at the center of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s lengthy probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Former foreign policy adviser to the 2016 Trump campaign, George Papadopolous was pardoned by Trump. Papadopolous was found guilty of providing false information to Mueller.

Clemency was also granted to Alex van der Zwaan, a Dutch attorney who pleaded guilty in 2018 for lying to prosecutors about his communication with Rick Gates, yet another former Trump campaign aide who was indicted on charges of conspiracy and money laundering, as well as acting as an unregistered foreign agent.

In 2012, Van der Zwaan, long before his entanglements with Mueller, assisted Paul Manafort with the creation of a report to shield Ukraine’s then president Viktor Yanukovych from criticism he faced over his jailing of political opponent Yulia Tymoshenko.

Manafort was instrumental in getting Yanukovych, backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, elected.

California Democratic Representative Adam Schiff sounded off on the pardons Wednesday night. Schiff served as lead impeachment manager during Trump’s impeachment inquiry in the House.

“During the Mueller investigation, Trump’s lawyer floated a pardon to Manafort. Manafort withdrew his cooperation with prosecutors, lied, was convicted, and then Trump praised him for not “ratting.” Trump’s pardon now completes the corrupt scheme. Lawless until the bitter end,” Schiff wrote on Twitter.

Talk of pardons for Trump’s allies new and old has been circulating since long before the Mueller probe concluded last April.

In the redacted 400-plus-page report on the investigation, the former special counsel laid out a complex web of obstruction, abuse of power and a recurring theme of lies and denial offered from near every corner of the Trump campaign’s universe.

Though Trump has long held publicly that the probe was little more than a fabricated “hoax” perpetrated against him by any number of people he perceives as disloyal, in the report’s many pages, a stark insecurity was laid bare.

“Oh my god,” Trump said at the time according to contemporaneous notes taken by Joseph Hunt, former assistant attorney general for the Civil Division of the DOJ, during a meeting between Trump and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Trump had just learned Mueller was appointed to investigate him.

“I’m fucked,” Trump said.

The White House did not immediately return a request for comment Wednesday.

%d bloggers like this: