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President Trump goes on clemency spree, and the list is long

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump went on a clemency blitz Tuesday, commuting former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s 14-year prison sentence and pardoning former New York City police commissioner Bernie Kerik, among a long list of others.

Those who got a break from Trump include financier Michael Milken, the “junk bond king” who served two years in prison in the early 1990s after pleading guilty to violating U.S. securities laws, and Edward DeBartolo Jr., the former San Francisco 49ers owner convicted in a gambling fraud scandal after building one of the most successful NFL teams in history. But Trump also commuted the sentences of several women with more sympathetic cases to balance out the men convicted of corruption.

In all, Trump took clemency actions related to 11 people, his latest interventions in the justice system as he faces growing criticism for weighing in on the cases of former aides. Trump made clear that he saw similarities between efforts to investigate his own conduct and those that took down Blagojevich, a Democrat who appeared on Trump’s reality TV show, “Celebrity Apprentice.”

“It was a prosecution by the same people — Comey, Fitzpatrick, the same group,” Trump told reporters. He was referring to Patrick Fitzgerald, the former U.S. attorney who prosecuted Blagojevich and now represents former FBI Director James Comey, whom Trump fired from the agency in May 2017. Comey was working in the private sector during the Blagojevich investigation and indictment.

The clemency actions come as an emboldened Trump continues to test the limits of his office now that impeachment is over. The actions drew alarm from Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. of New Jersey, who accused Trump of using his unfettered pardon power “to shield unrepentant felons, racists and corrupt scoundrels.”

Blagojevich was convicted on charges of political corruption, including seeking to sell an appointment to former President Barack Obama’s old Senate seat and trying to shake down a children’s hospital — actions Fitzgerald once described as “a political corruption crime spree” that would make Abraham Lincoln turn over in his grave.

But Trump said the former governor had been subjected to a “ridiculous sentence” that didn’t fit his crimes.

“That was a tremendously powerful, ridiculous sentence, in my opinion and in the opinion of many others,” he said.

Trump also pardoned Kerik, who served just over three years for tax fraud and lying to the White House while being interviewed to serve as homeland security secretary. Trump’s White House, however, lauded Kerik. “Since his conviction, he has focused on improving the lives of others, including as a passionate advocate for criminal justice and prisoner reentry reform,” the White House release stated.

Trump confirmed the pardons on an air base tarmac as he left Washington for a West Coast visit. He said he had yet to think about pardoning his longtime confidant Roger Stone, who is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday, or granting clemency to several former aides who have ended up in legal jeopardy, including his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and disgraced former national security adviser Mike Flynn.

But he made clear anew that he is sympathetic to their cases. “Somebody has to stick up for the people,” Trump said. As for Stone, in particular, he added: “You’re going to see what happens. I think he’s treated unfairly.”

Indeed, Pascrell predicted that, following Trump’s acquittal by the Republican-controlled Senate, “outrageous abuses like these will accelerate and worsen.”

In Illinois, current Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, said in a statement that Trump “has abused his pardon power in inexplicable ways to reward his friends and condone corruption, and I deeply believe this pardon sends the wrong message at the wrong time.” Republicans in the state echoed his criticism of the Blagojevich action.

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