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Trump allies 'paid to lobby for presidential pardons'

David Millward
·4-min read
Donald Trump - AP/Andrew Hamik
Donald Trump - AP/Andrew Hamik

A lucrative market has emerged for presidential pardons and clemency, with associates of Donald Trump being paid to lobby on individuals’ behalf, the New York Times reported.

Thousands of dollars have changed hands according to documents filed by lobbyists to Congress.

While there is no suggestion of illegality, the latest allegations will be embarrassing for Mr Trump who, when running for office, promised to “drain the swamp” of lobbyists and paid influence peddlers in Washington.

Details of the alleged cash for clemency emerged amid speculation that Mr Trump is considering seeking a pardon for himself and members of his family after he leaves office.

At this point, Mr Trump is opting not to issue a pardon for himself as he prepares an expansive list of more than 100 pardons and commutations for release on Tuesday, a source familiar with the effort told Reuters.

Some of those facing charges for the attack on the Capitol have also said they will seek a presidential pardon – a move which was opposed by Lindsey Graham, a close ally of Mr Trump’s.

Watch: What it’s like inside US Capitol one week on from the riots

Over the past few months, the US president has announced several pardons for several allies including Paul Manafort, his former presidential campaign chairman, Michael Flynn, the administration’s former National Security Adviser, and Roger Stone, a former adviser.

There is no suggestion that they paid anybody to intercede on their behalf. But it is alleged that others who have received pardons have been aided by lobbyists.

They include Charles Kushner, the father of the president’s son-in-law, Jared, who had been convicted for tax evasion, witness tampering and campaign finance violations.

According to a statement from the White House, his plea was supported by Brett Tolman, a former US district attorney in Utah, and Matt Schlapp, of the American Conservative Union.

They succeeded in persuading the president that Kushner’s record of philanthropy, since being released from prison, overshadowed his earlier conviction.

Mr Tolman also lobbied on behalf of Mark Shapiro and Irving Stitsky, real estate developers who were serving 85-year jail terms after their company crashed costing their investors millions of dollars.

It was unclear whether Kushner, Shapiro or Stitsky paid Mr Tolman for his work.

However, on Twitter Mr Tolman said he had represented a number of clients. “Some have been paying clients, many have been pro-bono.”

And in a legal filing to the House of Representatives, Mr Tolman declared he had received $22,500 lobbying for clemency, although it is unclear from whom.

The New York Times alleges a number of other associates of Mr Trump have been engaged in similar work.

Mr Trump is not the first president to have been accused of using his powers of pardon and clemency to aid supporters.

Bill Clinton issued 170 pardons and commutations, some of which went to donors, including financier Marc Ritch, whose former wife contributed $1.1 million towards his presidential library.

Bill Clinton - Marcy Nighswander/AP
Bill Clinton - Marcy Nighswander/AP

Mr Clinton insisted, in an article in the New York Times, that there was no “quid pro quo”.

“Presidents usually rely on the Pardon Attorney’s Office in the US Department of Justice to screen applications from clemency petitioners,” explained Professor Jeffrey Crouch of the American University and one of the country’s leading authorities on presidential pardons.

“Trump has been unusual when compared with other recent presidents in two ways. First, he almost never relies on this formal process, opting instead for his own group of advisors.

“Second, he seems to prefer to grant clemency primarily to people he knows or knows about. These lucky clemency recipients are often Trump’s political allies, supporters, or people who have a connection to him.”

Christopher Galdieri, associate professor of politics at Saint Anselm College, added: “It strikes me as typical of Trump's use of pardons as a way to reward supporters and the influential more than as an act of mercy that can undo injustices.

“I doubt many folks with unjustly long sentences or wrongful convictions are the ones hiring lobbyists with access to this White House.”

The involvement of lobbyists in the pardon process was condemned by David Gergen, a former White House adviser to presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton.

“It’s disgusting and violates all the norms and expectations of the clemency process,” he told the Telegraph.

Watch: Why do presidents have the power to pardon?