White-collar pardons may be just a start

Commuting the sentence of Rod Blagojevich, who has a clear and documented record of egregious corruption, sets a dangerous precedent and goes against the trust voters place in elected officials.

That lead paragraph is not our words. It is taken verbatim from a joint statement issued by all five Republican congressmen representing the state of Illinois. And they made it before President Trump decided to pardon the corrupt, ex-governor of Illinois and shorten his sentence.

They were right. But Trump didn’t listen.

It was a great day for a group of successful men who had it all going for them, but were greedy and wanted more. So they broke the law, were arrested, and most imprisoned. The president, who clearly doesn’t consider high-level corruption a big deal, on Tuesday gave them get-out-of-jail cards and/or cleared their records. All told, Trump pardoned or commuted the sentences of seven white-collar criminals.

Is this what Trump meant by promising to drain the swamp; clearing it out so the swamp creatures could escape?

It was bipartisan absolution, for that the president deserves some credit, we suppose. The highest profile pardon went to Blagojevich, the former Democratic governor of Illinois who, in 2010, appeared on Trump’s show, “Celebrity Apprentice.” Convicted in 2011, Blagojevich was eight years into his 14-year sentence.

Blagojevich is most famous for trying to sell the Senate seat he was empowered to fill after Barack Obama’s ascendancy to the presidency in 2009. But he was also convicted of extorting the CEO of a children’s hospital by withholding important state funding (sound familiar, Ukraine?). Really, a children’s hospital. Blagojevich was also convicted of various other extortions and lying to the FBI.

Receiving clemency was Michael Milken, whose greedy conduct was the inspiration for Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko character in the 1987 film “Wall Street.” In March 1989, a federal grand jury indicted the Junk Bond billionaire on 98 counts of racketeering and fraud. About a year later, Milken pleaded guilty to six counts of securities and tax violations. He served 22 months.

Also getting a pardon was former New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik, who served three years for tax fraud and making false statements.

For sheer audacity, the pardon given to Paul Pogue stands out. Pogue pleaded guilty in 2010 to underpaying his taxes by about $500,000. He received three years' probation. The construction-company owner’s family donated over $200,000 to Trump’s presidential campaign, the Daily Beast reported.

Just a coincidence, we’re sure.

Granted, some justifications could be found. Milken has practiced extensive philanthropy, particularly for cancer research. There were commutations for two women convicted of drug offenses, whose sentences were arguably extreme given their involvements in the crimes. Both had celebrities pushing for them. That or being a big-time white-collar criminal seem to get the president’s pardoning attention.

The big question is whether this sets the stage for absolving his former associates.

Roger J. Stone Jr. will be sentenced Thursday for acting to undermine the congressional investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible ties to the Trump campaign. Stone stands convicted of seven felonies, including obstructing Congress, lying to investigators under oath and tampering with a witness. Stone was an advisor to the Trump campaign.

Attorney General William Barr already acted inappropriately in pushing to weaken the sentencing recommendations of the prosecutors in the Stone case, leading three to withdraw, a fourth to resign entirely from the Department of Justice.

Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, stands convicted of five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud and one count of failure to disclose a foreign bank account. Last March Manafort was sentenced to seven and a half years.

Michael Flynn, Trump’s former natural security advisor, has pleaded guilty to “willfully and knowingly” making "false, fictitious and fraudulent statements" to the FBI regarding his conversations with Russia's ambassador. He has yet to be sentenced.

All three of the convictions resulted from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Russian 2016 campaign interference. Trump has sought to rhetorically undermine the disturbing findings of the Mueller investigation, which confirmed the campaign meddling by Russian operatives, their outreach to the Trump campaign, and efforts to obstruct Mueller's and Congress’ reviews.

Given recent events, and his dismissive attitude toward the Mueller investigation, it is not hard to imagine an emboldened post-impeachment Trump showing more contempt for the rule of law and the judicial system by pardoning his pals.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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