Trump Pardoned a Bunch of People Who Are Almost as Corrupt as He Is

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Ryan Bort
·5 min read
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Donald Trump is going out like he came in: corrupt as hell.

The departing president left the White House for Mar-a-Lago at 8 a.m. Wednesday morning, slinking out after a disastrous and deadly four years. One of his last acts on the job was granting a flurry of pardons and commutations (nearly 150 in all), many of them to his white-collar cronies. The last-minute pardon spree had long been expected, and wasn’t at all out of character for a president who routinely abused his ability to unilaterally absolve allies of federal crimes. As recently as December, Trump pardoned convicted felons such as Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Charles Kushner, and others. “This is rotten to the core,” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said of the action.

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Here’s a rundown of some of the notable names Trump let off the hook before leaving office.

Steve Bannon: Trump’s former campaign CEO and White House adviser was indicted last summer in a scheme to embezzle money from a group trying to crowdfund the construction of Trump’s border wall. He was even caught on video bragging about it. Bannon was awaiting trial when Trump came to the rescue, reportedly after advisers had spent dashing pushing back on granting Bannon clemency.

Though their relationship had been rocky since he left the White House in late 2017, Bannon had reportedly been counseling Trump on his effort to overthrow the results of the election.

Elliot Broidy: Broidy was a prominent Republican fundraiser and Trump booster who pleaded guilty last October to acting as an unregistered foreign agent following a scheme to influence Trump’s administration on behalf of interests in China and Malaysia. White House advisers were reportedly “disgusted” at the idea of pardoning Broidy. (For more on Broidy, read Andy Kroll’s 2019 profile of D.C.’s ultimate swamp creature.)

Kwame Kilpatrick: Trump made clear following the election that he didn’t think much of Detroit, calling it one of the “most politically corrupt places in our country.” Nevertheless, Trump pardoned Kwame Kilpatrick, the former Detroit mayor who in 2013 was convicted of a smorgasbord of corruption and self-dealing. He had served seven years of a 28-year sentence. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan praised the action. “This is a decision President Trump got right,” he said in a statement Wednesday morning.

Ken Kurson: Kurson was charged last year with cyberstalking and harassing several people over his 2015 divorce, including a doctor and friend whom he felt was responsible for the split. Why was he pardoned? It might have to do with the fact that he’s a close friend of Jared Kushner and longtime associate of Rudy Giuliani. The White House notes that the investigation into Kurson only began because Trump tried to appoint him to the board of the National Endowment for the Humanities. This may be true, but it also doesn’t mean that crimes aren’t still crimes.

Billy Walters: Walters is a high-profile sports gambler who was convicted of insider trading in 2017 and sentenced to five years in prison. The New York Times recently reported that in 2018 Walters hired Trump’s former lawyer, John Down, who had advertised his ability to use his relationship with the president to secure pardons for his clients.

Paul Erickson: Trump has long been determined to wipe away any concrete action that resulted from the Russia investigation, a drive that seems to have been behind his pardon of Erickson. The the former boyfriend of Russian NRA plant Maria Butina, who name came up in Mueller’s probe, Erickson was convicted of wire fraud and money laundering last year. The White House notes that his conviction was based on the “Russian collusion hoax” and that his pardon “helps right the wrongs of what has been revealed to be perhaps the greatest witch hunt in American History.”

Eliyahu Weinstein: Weinstein, a former car salesman, was sentenced to 22 years in prison for orchestrating a $200 million real estate Ponzi scheme that investigators said took advantage of the deal-by-handshake way of doing business within New Jersey’s Orthodox Jewish communities.

Robert Zangrillo: Zangrillo is a Florida real estate developer who was charged with criminal conspiracy after he allegedly tried to bribe University of Southern California athletic officials into deeming his daughter a rowing recruit so she could get into the school.

Rick Renzi: The former Republican congressman from Arizona was convicted of extortion and bribery in 2013 for his role in an illegal land swap scheme. The White House notes that his pardon is supported by such venerable figures as current Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar, who asked Trump to pardon him preemptively for his role in inciting the riot at the Capitol, and disgraced former California Rep. Duncan Hunter, who was convicted of stealing campaign funds and sentenced to 11 months in prison. Trump pardoned Hunter in December.

Dr. Salomon Melgen: Melgen is a Florida eye doctor to who lied to elderly patients about having eye diseases, and then bilked the government for $42 million in Medicare compensation for the unnecessary procedures he performed. He is currently serving a 17-year sentence for what has been described by prosecutors as the largest Medicare fraud in American history.

Trump also pardoned Lil Wayne and Kodak Black. The Tiger King, meanwhile, will have to rely on Joe Biden if he wants a presidential pardon.

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