Trump pardons Steve Bannon and gives clemency to 140 others in final hours of presidency

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Our Foreign Staff
·5 min read
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Donald Trump and Steve Bannon  - AFP
Donald Trump and Steve Bannon - AFP

Donald Trump granted clemency to former White House aide Steve Bannon as part of a wave of pardons and commutations issued in his final hours in office but did not pardon himself, members of his family or lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

Mr Trump leaves office on Wednesday, when Joe Biden is sworn in as the nation's next president. White House officials had argued to Mr Trump that he should not pardon himself or his family because it might look like they are guilty of crimes, according to a source familiar with the situation.

Julian Assange supporters had hoped Mr Trump would pardon the Wikileaks founder, however he did not make the list.

Mr Trump granted pardons to 73 individuals and commuted the sentences of an additional 70 individuals.

The list includes Elliott Broidy, a former top fundraiser for Mr Trump who pleaded guilty last year to violating foreign lobbying laws, and former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who was serving a 28-year prison term on corruption charges, a senior administration official said.

Rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black who were prosecuted on federal weapons offenses, were also granted pardons.

Why Bannon?

Mr Bannon, who was a key adviser in Trump's 2016 presidential run, was charged last year with swindling Trump supporters over an effort to raise private funds to build the president's wall on the US-Mexico border. He has pleaded not guilty.

The yacht Steve Bannon was arrested on last year
The yacht Steve Bannon was arrested on last year

His relationship with Mr Trump has been highly volatile. The two men fell out acrimoniously following his resignation in the wake of the protests in Charlottesville in the summer of 2017. The New York Times reported that, while most politicians condemned the neo-Nazi’s, Mr Trump’s infamous line of blame “on both sides” was fed to him by Mr Bannon.

Both men began slinging mud at each other, with Mr Bannon cooperating with Michael Wolff's tell-all book, while Trump nicknamed him 'Sloppy Steve' and said he had “lost his mind”.

Relations warmed again a few months ago, when Mr Bannon began supporting a second Trump term and trumpeted claims of election fraud.

Much like his former boss, Mr Bannon’s Twitter account was suspended in November after he said Christopher Wray, the FBI director, and Dr Anthony Fauci, a leading member of the White House coronavirus task force, should be beheaded for contradicting the president.

Mr Bannon’s pardon raised eyebrows not only among the general public, but among White House staff as well.

The New York Times is reporting that officials had tried to convince the President to keep Mr Bannon’s name off the list and delayed its release in the hopes they could convince Trump. They thought they had managed to do so, but at 9pm (2am GMT) last night, after extensive pressure from Bannon's advisers, Trump took the unilateral decision to offer his former chief strategist a pardon.

In a statement, the White house said Mr Bannon is “an important leader in the conservative movement and is known for his political acumen.”

Democrat Adam Schiff tweeted: “Steve Bannon is getting a pardon from Trump after defrauding Trump’s own supporters into paying for a wall that Trump promised Mexico would pay for. And if that all sounds crazy, that’s because it is. Thank God we have only 12 more hours of this den of thieves.”

Who else has been pardonned?

Mr Giuliani, who has been at the forefront of unsuccessful efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, has not been charged with a crime, but investigators have been probing his activities in Ukraine.

Mr Trump previously pardoned former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn for lying to the FBI about his conversation with the former Russian ambassador, and he commuted the prison term for Roger Stone, who was convicted of lying to Congress during its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Mr Bannon can still be charged in state court in New York, where a pardon would not help him, said Daniel R. Alonso, a former prosecutor now at the Buckley law firm. Fraud prosecutions are frequently brought by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, Mr Alonso said.

Lil Wayne, 38, whose real name is Dwayne Michael Carter Jr., pleaded guilty in federal court in December to illegally possessing a firearm and faced up to 10 years in prison. He has expressed support for Trump's criminal justice reform efforts.

Kodak Black, 23, who was born Bill Kahan Kapri, is in federal prison for making a false statement in order to buy a firearm.

Other notable people Mr Trump granted full pardons to were Sholam Weiss, who was convicted of bilking $125 million from the National Heritage Life Insurance Co and its elderly policyholders, and Anthony Levandowski , a former Google engineer who pleaded guilty to stealing secret technology related to self-driving cars from the company before becoming the head of Uber Technologies Inc's rival unit.

No pardon for Joe Exotic

Joe Exotic  - AFP
Joe Exotic - AFP

Notable on Donald Trump's final list of presidential pardons were some absences.

One name who had been expecting to receive clemency was Joe Exotic, the star of Netflix's TV series Tiger King. He and his legal team have been campaigning very publicly for a pardon, with his lawyers even booking him a limo to pick him up from prison in case such a pardon came.

Mr Exotic is currently serving a 22-year prison sentence after being convicted for a murder-for-hire plot involving nemesis Carole Baskin as well as violating wildlife laws in the selling and death of some tigers.

In June 2020, Trump fuelled speculation that he may pardon Mr Exotic, after referring to him as a "strange guy" in media comments. However, he has never publicly discussed pardoning the former zoo owner.