Trump Pardons Cronies and Celebs Hours Before Leaving D.C.
Just before 1 a.m. Wednesday, the long-awaited list was released with pardons for 73 people and commutations for another 70.
Many of the names would be unfamiliar to the average American, but the list also included figures from high-profile cases and people with ties to Trumpland. Notably missing from the list were WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and Tiger King star Joe Exotic—whose supporters had pushed for pardons. Trump also did not issue pre-emptive pardons for any members of him family, his attorney Rudy Giuliani, or himself.
Four people who received clemency were supported by lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who was part of the defense team during Trump’s first impeachment. Among them is Sholam Weiss, who was sentenced to more than 800 years in prison in connection with a massive fraud scheme that destroyed a life insurance company and stripped its customers of their savings. Weiss fled the country in the middle of the trial but was captured in Austria and extradited.
Others who got a reprieve from Trump on the eve of Joe Biden’s inauguration include:
Death Row records co-founder Michael “Harry-O” Harris
Michael “Harry-O” Harris served about three decades after his 1988 conviction for attempted murder during a kidnapping. In 1992, from behind bars, Harris granted $1.5 million in seed money to Suge Knight to start the iconic record label, which went on to feature iconic rappers such as Dr. Dre, Tupac Shakur, and Snoop Dogg. Snoop launched a lobbying bid to grant Harris clemency in the president’s final days in office, The Daily Beast reported on Monday. Harris had sought to be released from prison earlier this year, citing his autoimmune disorder as a possible risk factor for COVID-19, but that request was declined.
Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick
Former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was slated to remain behind bars until 2037 after being convicted in a major corruption scandal. Since being sentenced in October 2013, he has fought to be released, sending a letter to Trump in 2018 in the hopes of a commutation. Several of Kilpatrick’s allies, including billionaire Peter Karmanas, had also started pushing Trump to grant clemency in recent months.
Rapper Kodak Black, real name Bill Kahan Kapri, was serving a three-year prison term after pleading guilty to weapons charges in 2019. The Florida native had admitted in court documents to knowingly making false statements in applications for firearms. The 23-year-old was also charged separately with first-degree criminal sexual conduct for allegedly assaulting a woman after a concert.
Ken Kurson, the former editor of The New York Observer and friend of Jared Kushner, was arrested last fall for what prosecutors described as a “pattern of stalking and harassment against three victims.” Authorities became aware of Kurson’s alleged crimes in 2018 while he was undergoing an FBI background check for an unpaid advisory role in the Trump administration that The Daily Beast first revealed.
In a statement announcing Kurson’s full pardon, the White House described him as an “upstanding citizen” and said that the investigation into his alleged cyberstalking “only began because Mr. Kurson was nominated to a role within the Trump Administration.”
Former California Rep. Randall “Duke” Cunningham
Randy “Duke” Cunningham left Congress in 2005 as a disgraced felon after pleading guilty to a slew of charges, including tax evasion, mail fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit bribery. He served seven years behind bars for accepting at least $2.4 million in bribes, at one point reportedly even using a “bribe menu” showing the exact sums he would require to deliver a contract.
Trump granted him a conditional pardon late Tuesday, with the White House noting that he “continues to serve his community” after his release in 2013 and that “former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich strongly supports this pardon.”
Robert “Bob” Zangrillo, real estate developer
Robert “Bob” Zangrillo is a Miami real estate developer charged in the Operation Varsity Blues college admissions scandal. He allegedly conspired to bribe college coaches at the University of Southern California to admit unqualified students via athletics programs. His trial was set for September 2021.
Paul Erickson, ex-boyfriend of Russian agent Maria Butina
Paul Erickson is perhaps best known for helping Russian spy Maria Butina worm her way into the Republican Party, but that is not what landed him in jail. Erickson was convicted of defrauding oil investors in July 2020 and sentenced to seven years in prison. Butina herself was deported in the fall of 2020 for failing to register as a foreign agent. Erickson’s pardon was supported by Kellyanne Conway, according to the White House’s statement. By granting clemency to Erickson, Trump lashed out one last time at Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference, writing, “This pardon helps right the wrongs of what has been revealed to be perhaps the greatest witch hunt in American History.”
Former Google and Uber Engineer Anthony Levandowski
Anthony Levandowski, the former Uber executive convicted of stealing trade secrets from Google’s self-driving car subsidiary Waymo, received a full pardon from Trump. He was fined hundreds of thousands of dollars and sentenced to 18 months in prison but had not begun serving it out yet. The pardon, according to a statement from the White House, was supported by right-wing tech entrepreneurs and Trump donors Palmer Luckey and Peter Thiel.
Ex-Chair of the North Carolina GOP Robin Hayes
Robin Hayes pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI during a North Carolina corruption scandal. Investigators were probing a bribery scandal in which massive Republican donor Greg Lindberg offered a $2 million payment to remove the state officials responsible for regulating his business.
Aviem Sella, former Israeli air force officer
Aviem Sella was indicted on three counts of espionage against the U.S. for recruiting the notorious Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, who worked for U.S. Navy Intelligence. Pollard was jailed for 30 years, but is treated as something of a hero in Israel. His pardon was supported by Bibi Netanyahu and Miriam Adelson, the widow of Trump mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, who was buried in Jerusalem last week.