Samuel Corum/AFP via Getty Images
Updated 11 p.m. ET
President Trump issued dozens more pardons on Wednesday evening to many wealthy and well-connected convicts with ties to his innermost circles, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Republican operative Roger Stone and Charles Kushner, the father-in-law of Ivanka Trump.
In total, Trump pardoned 26 people and commuted the sentences of three more people — the second consecutive night of what is expected to be a flurry of acts of clemency before he leaves office.
The pardons and commutations to such close allies showcase Trump’s willingness to flout the norms of presidential conduct.
Manafort, who was sentenced to more than seven years in prison after being convicted of bank and tax fraud in addition to other crimes, was released in May from a minimum-security federal lockup and moved to home confinement over concerns about the coronavirus.
“As a result of blatant prosecutorial overreach, Mr. Manafort has endured years of unfair treatment and is one of the most prominent victims of what has been revealed to be perhaps the greatest witch hunt in American history,” the White House press secretary said in a statement announcing the pardon.
Shortly after the announcement, Manafort expressed his gratitude to the President on Twitter. “Mr. President, my family & I humbly thank you for the Presidential Pardon you bestowed on me. Words cannot fully convey how grateful we are,” he wrote.
Mr. President, my family & I humbly thank you for the Presidential Pardon you bestowed on me. Words cannot fully convey how grateful we are.
— Paul Manafort (@PaulManafort) December 24, 2020
Manafort spent his career as a high-level power broker and advocate for some of the most infamous clients in the world, including dictators Ferdinand Marcos and Mobutu Sese Seko.
In the 2000s, Manafort connected with Viktor Yanukovych, a Russia-friendly strongman who served as president of Ukraine until he was thrown out of power in a popular revolt. Manafort made millions of dollars working for Yanukovych, but his work in Ukraine set the stage for Manafort’s eventual prosecution and imprisonment.
Manafort and his protege, Rick Gates, hid from authorities the money they earned in Ukraine and came to the attention of U.S. investigators before the two went to work in 2016 for then-candidate Donald Trump.
Charles Kushner is the father of Jared Kushner, who serves as a senior advisor to the president and is married to Ivanka Trump. The real estate billionaire served two years in prison for tax evasion and retaliating against a federal witness — his brother-in-law.
After making a fortune in New Jersey, the developer came under investigation in 2003 by then-U.S. Attorney Chris Christie for making illegal campaign contributions.
Kushner’s brother-in-law and former employee, William Schulder, eventually became a witness for federal prosecutors. In a move to exact revenge on him for the perceived betrayal, Kushner devised a bizarre blackmail plot: He hired a prostitute to sleep with Schulder, secretly video-taped the encounter, then mailed a tape of it to his own sister.
But the move backfired. Schulder and his wife turned the tape over to prosecutors.
Christie later called the case, “one of the most loathsome, disgusting crimes,” he’d ever prosecuted.
In the end, Kushner pleaded guilty to 16 counts of tax evasion, one count of retaliating against a federal witness, and another count of lying to the Federal Election Commission.
On Wednesday, the White House cited Kushner’s philanthropy as one of the reasons for Trump’s pardon.
“Since completing his sentence in 2006, Mr. Kushner has been devoted to important philanthropic organizations and causes, such as Saint Barnabas Medical Center and United Cerebral Palsy,” said the president’s statement. “This record of reform and charity overshadows Mr. Kushner’s conviction and 2 year sentence for preparing false tax returns, witness retaliation, and making false statements to the Federal Election Commission.”
The case against Stone was brought by then-special counsel Robert Mueller as part of his probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and possible ties between Moscow and the Trump campaign.
Stone was indicted on charges of lying to Congress about what he and then-candidate Trump knew about Russian efforts to discredit Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential campaign, witness tampering and obstruction. The charges related to his efforts during the 2016 presidential race to act as an intermediary between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks.
But days before Stone, who is Trump’s longtime friend and political confidant, was to report to prison in July, the president commuted the 40-month prison sentence.
Democrats were so outraged by Trump’s July decision, that it prompted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to call for legislation that would limit the presidential pardon powers and prevent future leaders from granting clemency to individuals who acted to shield that president from prosecution. Pelosi called it “an act of staggering corruption.”
House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Adam Schiff of California called it “a real body blow to the rule of law in this country.”
Trump granted a full pardon to Mark Siljander, a former Republican congressman from Michigan and once a deputy U.S. ambassador to the UN.
In 2010, Siljander pleaded guilty and was convicted of lying to FBI agents probing his ties to the now-defunct Islamic American Relief Agency of Columbia, Mo.
The U.S. Attorney in Kansas City, Beth Phillips, who prosecuted the case, accused the former congressman of engaging “in illegal lobbying for a charity suspected of funding international terrorism.”
“He then used his own charities to hide the payments for his criminal activities,” Phillips said. “Siljander repeatedly lied to FBI agents and prosecutors investigating serious crimes related to national security.”
The FBI raided the offices of the IARA in 2004, shutting down operations. That same year, the U.S. government designated the group a terrorist organization due to its ties to Maktab al-Khidamat, the precursor of al-Qaeda, as well its financial support for Bin Laden and Hamas.
Several high-profile former lawmakers urged Trump to grant Siljander’s pardon, including former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, and Alabama Congressman Robert Aderholt.
The White House noted Siljander’s commitment to anti-abortion causes, calling him “one of Congress’ most stalwart defenders of pro-life principles.” He was also the namesake of the “Siljander Amendment,” which prohibits U.S. funds from being used to lobby for or against abortion.
The pardons come one day after Trump granted full pardons to 15 individuals and commuted part or all of the sentences of an additional five. Those pardons included three Republican former members of Congress, those involved in the Russia investigation and contractors convicted in the killings of civilians in Iraq.
Activists have lobbied Trump to help prisoners who are serving long sentences.
Ahead of the most recent announcement, Trump had issued more than 40 pardons and more than 30 commutations during his time in office.
He has pushed the limits of the presidential pardon in that time, pardoning close allies involved in politically sensitive cases. But there are few limits on a president’s power to issue pardons.