In a bold pre-Christmas pardon Tuesday, President Trump granted pardon to two people convicted of the Special Envoy’s Russia investigation, four Blackwater guards convicted of murdering Iraqi civilians, and three corrupt former Republican members of Congress.
Among those pardoned was George Papadopoulos, who was Mr Trump’s foreign policy advisor to Mr Trump’s 2016 campaign and who pleaded guilty in 2017 to making false statements to federal officials as part of the investigation by Special Envoy Robert S. Mueller III.
Also pardoned was Alex van der Zwaan, an attorney who pleaded guilty to the same charge in 2018 in connection with the Special Envoy’s investigation. Both men served brief sentences.
According to people close to the president, the pardons related to Müller are a signal that more people are involved in the investigation.
Mr Trump recently pardoned his former National Security Advisor, Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn, who pleaded guilty twice, including over lying to the F.B.I. in connection with the investigation of Russian participation in the elections. Mr Trump reversed the verdict in July of Roger J. Stone Jr., his longtime advisor, who was convicted on a number of charges related to the investigation. Both men have kept their innocence.
Trump’s pardon list also included four former U.S. soldiers convicted of murdering Iraqi civilians while working as contractors in 2007.
One of them, Nicholas Slatten, had been sentenced to life in prison after the Justice Department went to great lengths to prosecute him. Mr Slatten was a contractor for the controversial Blackwater company and was convicted for his role in the murder of 17 Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square in Baghdad – a massacre that left one of the most lasting stains in the United States of war.
The three former members of Congress pardoned by Mr. Trump were Duncan Hunter from California, Chris Collins from New York, and Steve Stockman from Texas.
Mr. Hunter was due to serve an 11 month sentence next month. He pleaded guilty in 2019 to misusing campaign funds.
Mr. Collins, an early advocate for Mr. Trump, is serving a 26-month prison sentence after pleading guilty in 2019 to making false statements to the F.B.I. and conspire to commit securities fraud.
Mr Stockman was convicted of fraud and money laundering in 2018 and was serving a 10-year prison term.
And Mr Trump apologized to two former border guards whose sentences had previously been commuted by President George W. Bush for their role in the shooting of a suspected drug dealer.
The pardons are unlikely to be the last before Mr Trump leaves office on Jan. 20, and they will no doubt fuel the idea that Mr Trump has aggressively used his pardon power for personal and political ends. The founders gave the president the authority to serve as the ultimate emergency break for the criminal justice system to correct the injustices of those who deserve mercy in mercy.
A table by Harvard Law School professor Jack Goldsmith found that of the 45 pardons or commutations Mr. Trump granted through Tuesday, 88 percent helped someone with a personal attachment to the president or furthered his or her political goals.
And by overturning the legal ramifications of convictions in the Russia investigation, Mr Trump escalated a lengthy campaign, backed by his outgoing Attorney General William P. Barr, to effectively reverse Mr Mueller’s investigation, and the resulting prosecution discredit and punish them who instigated it at all.
The White House further erased the legacy of the Müller investigation in a statement released Tuesday evening. The statement noted that the Mueller investigation “found no evidence of collusion related to Russia’s attempts to meddle in the elections” and dismissively described Mr Papadopoulos’ crime as “litigation”.
Mr Papadopoulos, 33, served 12 days in prison for lying to the F.B.I. about his contacts with Russian mediators during the 2016 presidential contest. He later published a book in which he portrayed himself as a victim of a “Deep State” conspiracy to “bring down President Trump”. In an interview last month, he welcomed the possibility of grace.
“Of course it would be an honor for me to be pardoned,” he said.
Mr van der Zwaan was sentenced to 30 days in prison in April 2018 for lying to investigators for the Special Representative’s Office with a Russian intelligence officer who worked closely with Mr Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
Mr Manafort was convicted in 2018 on a number of charges, including tax and banking fraud. He was sentenced to a total of seven years in prison. That year, Mr. Manafort was granted home detention for fear of the coronavirus spreading in prisons.
Mr Manafort had agreed to work with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to bringing several charges against him, but prosecutors later accused him of misleading them and of being of no use in the investigation. Mr. Manafort’s allies hope that Mr. Trump will forgive him.
Two other people convicted in the Russia investigation, Mr. Manafort’s MP Rick Gates and the President’s former personal lawyer Michael D. Cohen, are seen as unlikely candidates for a pardon for Mr. Trump. Both men worked on the investigation into the president.
Peter Baker contributed to the coverage.