Trump’s pardons may be poorly worded enough to leave some people on the hook

Trump turkey pardon 2019
President Donald Trump gives a presidential ‘pardon’ to the National Thanksgiving Turkey Butter in the Rose Garden of the White House November 26, 2019 in Washington, DC. While Butter may be safe, Paul Manafort still faces risks, experts say.

  • President Trump’s pardons leave some of their subjects open to additional prosecution, experts say.
  • His former campaign chair Paul Manafort could still be prosecuted for specific crimes he wasn’t pardoned for.
  • Even Michael Flynn, who received a wider-ranging pardon, could still have it tested by courts.
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On his way out of office, President Donald Trump issued more than 100 pardons, mostly to his personal friends and political allies.

A number of those pardons were for people convicted of federal crimes linked to the Mueller investigation – including his former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and advisors Roger Stone and George Papadopoulos.

Trump was sure to malign Mueller’s investigation in his pardon notices. The press release for Manafort’s pardon, for example, said he was “prosecuted in the course of Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation, which was premised on the Russian collusion hoax.”

Though the president’s pardon powers are broad, a number of prosecutors and experts on clemency laws don’t believe those people are off the hook just yet.

Trump pardoned Manafort for his specific convictions. It’s much more narrowly tailored than the pardon Trump gave to Flynn, for “any and all offenses arising out of the facts and circumstances” brought by Robert Mueller’s office.

It’s also narrower than the pardon President Gerald Ford gave to former President Richard Nixon, which covered a broad timeframe.

“It says ‘for his conviction’ and that’s it. It’s just for the crimes for which he was convicted,” Kimberly Wehle, a University of Baltimore law professor, told Insider. “That is a different wording than Richard Nixon received under his pardon, which is for ‘all conceivable crimes.'”

Manafort
Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign manager, in 2019. Trump pardoned him in 2020.

Wehle, who worked under Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr in the Justice Department, said presidents must specify the specific crimes being pardoned.

Beyond that, prosecutors can always try to bring different charges using the same set of underlying facts, she said.

The same point was brought up by Andrew Weissman, Mueller’s second-in-command, in an article for the blog Just Security on Wednesday. Weissman argued that while Flynn’s pardon left “no room for now holding Flynn to account for his past felonious conduct,” the pardon for Manafort was full of holes.

“Specifically, the pardon is solely for the crimes of conviction … That leaves numerous crimes as to which Manafort can still be prosecuted, as in Virginia there were 10 hung counts,” Weissman wrote. “In Washington, the situation is even more wide open. In that district, Manafort pleaded to a superseding information containing two conspiracy charges, while the entire underlying indictment – containing numerous crimes from money laundering, to witness tampering, to violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act – now remains open to prosecution as there was no conviction for those charges.”

Read more: Could Trump mass-pardon his supporters who rioted at the Capitol? Constitutional-law experts weigh in.

There are other obstacles, too.

Prosecutors need to make sure they don’t run afoul of the statue of limitations – though Manafort waived some of those protections, Weissman said. And a judge might decide that prosecutors are simply repackaging the same actions for which a person was pardoned into different crimes, which may run afoul of the Constitution’s double jeopardy protection.

But Wehle said there’s plenty of case law for judges to review. While federal prosecutors have rarely tried to go around presidential pardons, state-level prosecutors have often brought new criminal charges following governors’ state-level pardons and succeeded.

“Say there was a robbery and a murder, and you’re indicted and prosecuted for the robbery, and then later they come back and indict you and prosecute you for the murder,” Wehle said. “I don’t think there’s this a problem with fairness in there.”

Experts think Flynn may not be safe either

Some pardon attorneys even believe that federal prosecutors may still be able to bring new charges against Flynn.

Margaret Love, a clemency attorney and US Department of Justice pardon attorney between 1990 and 1997, believes the pardon for Flynn may have asserted powers that Trump didn’t actually have.

Love told Insider that while Trump could grant Flynn clemency for the crimes he was prosecuted for, a judge might decide that the “any and all offenses arising out of the facts and circumstances” part of it might not hold water.

“The president can assert whatever power he has, but at issue is whether he has the power,” Love said, adding: “I believe there is a strong argument that the constitutional pardon power requires a degree of specificity as to what crime it is pardoning.”

sidney powell michael flynn
Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, leaves the federal court with his lawyer Sidney Powell, in September 2019.

Even the broad pardon Ford gave to Nixon, Love said, has never been tested. The Justice Department never brought the issue before a court to decide whether the sweeping nature of the pardon was valid.

The question of whether Flynn’s pardon would prevent future prosecutions now depends on the appetite of Justice Department prosecutors, and it’s an open question whether Biden’s selection for attorney general, Merrick Garland, would choose to bring another case against him.

“Whoever is the prosecutor in the Flynn case will undoubtedly be looking closely at [the pardon] wording, just like Andrew Weissman was looking closely at [the] Manafort pardon,” Love said. “Then they will decide what to do.”

Attorneys for Manafort and Flynn didn’t immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

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Trump’s last minute pardons include a guy who shared Google’s trade secrets with Uber, a snake smuggler, and a man charged with cyberstalking a doctor

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Trump pardoned Ken Kurson, who at one time was nominated to be on the board of the National Endowment for the Humanities, among others.

  • President Donald Trump’s final list of pardons was released on Tuesday night and included more than 140 people.
  • Many on the list were low-level non-violent drug offenders, but Trump also offered pardons and clemency to some surprising figures.  
  • Among the list are a one-time Trump administration nominee, a snake smuggler, and a former Google exec convicted of stealing company secrets.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

President Donald Trump’s final list of pardons was released on Tuesday with more than a hundred people on it, none of whom happened to be Joe Exotic. 

Exotic and his lawyer Eric Love were hoping for a pardon – Love was reportedly waiting outside Exotic’s prison with a limo on standby (after several hours, he drove away). Exotic was sentenced to 22 years on more than a dozen charges of animal abuse and two counts of attempted murder.

But, surprisingly, the exotic animal world was represented on the president’s last-ditch list. Robert Bowker pleaded guilty to trafficking in wildlife 30 years ago, after he was caught transporting 22 snakes to the Miami Serpentarium, an act for which he was offered 22 American alligators. Bowker was sentenced to probation and has spent much of the last few decades working in conservation. Trump granted him a full pardon.

Trump also looked to pardon fellow politicians, including former Arizona Rep. Rick Renzi, who was convicted in 2013 of extortion, bribery, insurance fraud, money laundering, and racketeering in connection with the development of a mine outside of Phoenix.

Renzi was released from prison in 2017. In a statement Wednesday he said: “After almost 14 years of fighting for my innocence, it took a real man of action and courage in President Trump to finally relieve me of the horrific deceit of being wrongly convicted by a Department of Justice that engaged in witness tampering, illegal wiretapping, and gross prosecutorial misconduct.”

Ken Kurson, who was at one time nominated to be on the board of the National Endowment for the Humanities, was also granted a preemptive pardon in an ongoing cyberstalking case.

As the FBI began vetting the former New York Observer editor for the NEH role, it was revealed that he’d been accused of harassing and stalking two doctors at Mt. Sinai Hospital, one of whom he allegedly blamed for the dissolution of his marriage in 2015.

A criminal complaint was filed that alleged Kurson had created false online personas to harass the women, and that Kurson had at one time contacted the women’s employer to falsely accuse them of “improper contact with a minor,” according to CNBC

Kurson is known to be a close friend of Jared Kushner and is connected to him through his work at the Observer, the newspaper Kushner once owned.

According to The New York Times, Kurson also helped write a campaign speech for Trump in 2016, and in was a co-author on Rudy Giuliani’s 2002 book “Leadership.” Kushner’s father, Charles Kushner, was pardoned by the president in December.

Former Google exec Anthony Levandowski’s pardon was supported by several entrepreneurial heavyweights, including venture capitalist Peter Thiel and CAA founder Michael Ovitz, and Oculus founder Palmer Luckey.

Levandowski founded Google’s self-driving car initiative, but then became embroiled in a civil lawsuit after he was accused of sharing trade secrets with Uber. In March 2020 he pleaded guilty to one charge of secret theft and was sentenced to 18 months in prison. 

More than a dozen pardons went to people who had been convicted of non-violent drug offenses. In some cases, those convictions go back to the late 1980s and early 1990s. Many of the names given to Trump were vetted by #Cut50, a bipartisan criminal justice reform group.

Alice Johnson, who was granted clemency by Trump in 2018 after being convicted of drug trafficking in 1996, was part of #Cut50’s efforts. (Johnson was granted a full pardon by Trump in 2020 after she spoke at the Republican National Convention on his behalf.)

One particularly striking commutation that Johnson fought for was that of Ferrell Damon Scott, who was convicted of possession with intent to distribute marijuana in 2007 and, under the Three Strikes Law policy, was given a life sentence. The commutation was supported by Acting United States Attorney Sam Sheldon, who said that he “strongly does not believe that [Mr. Scott] deserves a mandatory life sentence.” 

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Trump pardoned Jared Kushner’s dad Charles, who was convicted of tax crimes, witness tampering, and illegal campaign contributions

jared kushner charles Barbara
Jared Kushner poses at an event in 2007, flanked by his father Charles Kushner and Barbara Kushner.

  • Alongside 28 other pardons and commutations President Donald Trump granted on Wednesday, Charles Kushner, 66, was given a full pardon.
  • Charles Kushner was investigated by prosecutors for making illegal campaign donations in 2003, and at the time, his brother-in-law and former business partner William Schulder had assisted prosecutors.
  • Once Charles learned of Schulder’s cooperation, he hired a sex worker to attempt to seduce Schulder. The encounter was recorded with a hidden camera and Kushner delivered the tapes to Schulder’s wife as revenge.
  • In the end, Charles pleaded guilty and was charged with 18 counts of assisting in the filing of false tax returns, one count of retaliating against a federal witness, and one count of lying to the Federal Election Commission. He served a 2-year sentence.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

President Donald Trump continued his pardon spree on Wednesday, and alongside allies and former campaign officials, he pardoned Charles Kushner, the father of White House senior advisor Jared Kushner, who is also Trump’s son-in-law.

The elder Kushner was convicted in 2005 for preparing false tax returns, witness retaliation, and making false statements to the Federal Election Commission. He pleaded guilty and served 2 years in prison.

In the press release profiling the 26 new pardons and three commutations announced on Wednesday – including GOP strategist Roger Stone and Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort – the White House said that “since completing his sentence in 2006, Mr. Kushner has been devoted to important philanthropic organizations and causes.”

‘One of the most loathsome, disgusting crimes’

Charles Kushner and his father founded Kushner Companies in 1985. Charles ran the New York City real estate company until he was sentenced to prison in 2005.

In 2003, prosecutors investigated him for making illegal campaign donations, and at the time, his brother-in-law and former business partner William Schulder had assisted their probe.

charles kushner
Charles Kushner in 2004.

Once Charles learned of Schulder’s cooperation, he hired a sex worker to attempt to seduce Schulder and sleep with him, an act that Charles had recorded with a hidden camera. He delivered the tapes to Schulder’s wife as revenge.

In the end, Charles pleaded guilty to 16 counts of tax evasion, one count of retaliating against a federal witness, and one count of lying to the FEC.

He served a 14-month prison sentence in Alabama, where his family visited him on a weekly basis, according to the Real Deal.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who prosecuted Charles Kushner as then-US attorney for the state, told PBS’s Margaret Hoover on “Firing Line” in 2019 it was “one of the most loathsome, disgusting crimes that I prosecuted.”

Jared Kushner has defended his father, and Kushner Companies has been shrouded in other controversies

Although his father admitted to his crimes, Jared has often defended Charles.

In 2009, Jared told New York Magazine: “His siblings stole every piece of paper from his office, and they took it to the government. Siblings that he literally made wealthy for doing nothing. He gave them interests in the business for nothing. All he did was put the tape together and send it. Was it the right thing to do? At the end of the day, it was a function of saying, ‘You’re trying to make my life miserable? Well, I’m doing the same.'”

That same year, Jared married Ivanka Trump, the president’s eldest daughter. They have both served as White House advisors for Trump’s entire presidency. Prior to serving in the White House, Kusher “transferred large portions of his real estate holdings and the New York Observer to a family trust overseen by his mother, Seryl and sold additional assets to his brother Joshua,” CNN reported at the time.

Kushner Companies, before and after Charles’ and Jared’s tenures, has long been shrouded in controversy.

After Jared assumed the role of CEO in 2008, he sold off many holdings and bought 666 Fifth Avenue, a mixed-use building that has been the source of multiple complaints and investigations.

According to Town and Country, in 2018, Kushner Companies confirmed that the US attorney in Brooklyn had subpoenaed the company regarding its support of a program that allowed foreigners to invest $500,000 to fast-track US residency and citizenship. Kushner Companies sold the skyscraper in August 2018.

Jared Kushner also holds ownership of several Baltimore-area apartment complexes that have been embroiled in housing violations and mismanagement accusations for years.

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