President Donald Trump said Thursday that he will pardon conservative provocateur Dinesh D’Souza, and revealed he is weighing pardons or commutations for Martha Stewart and former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Stewart, who founded a lifestyle and home merchandising company, was convicted in 2004 on charges related to an insider stock trading case. Stewart sold stock based on a non-public tip she received and avoided a loss on her shares of ImClone Systems, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission. She was found guilty at trial on several felony charges, including conspiracy and making false statements to federal investigators, and was sentenced to five months in prison.
Blagojevich, a Democrat, was impeached and removed from office in 2009 on corruption charges that he had solicited bribes for Barack Obama’s open Senate seat. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison; he is currently serving his term at the low-security Federal Correctional Institute in Englewood, Colorado.
Trump told reporters Thursday that Blagojevich had said something “stupid” and called his lengthy sentence “really unfair.” The president added that “plenty of other politicians could have said a lot worse” than Blagojevich and suggested he was more interested in “curtailing his sentence” than granting a full pardon to the former governor.
Former FBI director James Comey, who was fired by Trump, had brought the charges against Stewart. Blagojevich was a contestant on Trump’s show, “The Apprentice,” in 2010.
Trump’s talk of pardons and commutations comes the day after reality television star Kim Kardashian went to the White House to press for prison reform and a pardon for Alice Marie Johnson, who is serving a life sentence for a first-time conviction on drug-trafficking and money-laundering charges. Trump has not said what he will do about Johnson.
So far, Trump’s mostly used his pardon power to grant reprieves to conservative celebrities. With the addition of D’Souza, his pardon list will stand at five.
The others: Joe Arpaio, an Arizona sheriff who is a favorite of immigration hard-liners; I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the aide to former Vice President Dick Cheney who was convicted of obstructing justice and lying to authorities during an investigation into the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame; Kristian Mark Saucier, a Navy sailor who kept classified materials; and Jack Johnson, the African-American boxing legend who was convicted under a law that was used as a deterrent to interracial dating.
D’Souza, a best-selling author and filmmaker who has been sharply critical of former President Barack Obama and the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, made news most recently when he ridiculed the survivors of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting after the Florida House’s decision not to consider a ban on so-called assault weapons.
“Worst news since their parents told them to get summer jobs,” D’Souza wrote on Twitter. He later apologized.
“I’m very relieved to have my record clean in a way that fully restores my faith in America, my American dream,” D’Souza said in an interview on Laura Ingraham’s radio program Thursday after Trump’s announcement in which he accused the Obama administration of having “gansterized” politics. “Something that’s hanging over you and you have the United States of America versus Dinesh D’Souza, and that is now gone.”
Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, whose office prosecuted D’Souza, wrote on Twitter that D’Souza got a fair shake from the justice system.
“The President has the right to pardon but the facts are these: D’Souza intentionally broke the law, voluntarily pled guilty, apologized for his conduct & the judge found no unfairness,” Bharara wrote. “The career prosecutors and agents did their job. Period.”
D’Souza now claims he was targeted by the Justice Department for his political leanings, even though he admitted in court that he broke the law and expressed remorse for it.
Trump’s decision might be less about D’Souza’s virtues than signaling to potential witnesses in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe that there’s an incentive to remaining loyal, Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe wrote on Twitter Thursday.
“Trump’s Dinesh D’Souza pardon today, on top of his pardons of Scooter Libby and Joe Arpaio, make sense only as an elephant-whistle to Michael Cohen & all who know damning things about Trump: protect me & I’ll have your back,” Tribe wrote. “Turn on me & your goose is cooked. More obstruction!”
Asked whether there was a connection between the pardon and the Russia probe, White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah said, “Each of the president’s actions on pardons or on other things should be judged on the merits, looking at the facts and the circumstances surrounding that case.”