President Donald Trump at the White House on Thursday.

President Donald Trump at the White House on Thursday. Credit: Getty Images/Mark Wilson

Idolatry is quality of mercy

If you're looking to get a federal rap expunged from the record, will kissing up to Donald Trump help? An emerging pattern suggests it can't hurt.

Trump announced a grant of executive clemency for billionaire former media baron Conrad Black, who was convicted of looting funds that should have gone to investors and obstruction of justice in 2007. Black served more than 3 years in prison and then was deported to his native Canada. An appeals court reversed two convictions but left two others in place.

Trump knew Black before his downfall from their collaboration on a Chicago development deal. Since Trump entered politics, Black has become a reliable fan. In 2015, he wrote a National Review essay titled “Trump Is the Good Guy.” That earned Trump's thanks on Twitter and a promise: "I won't forget!" Last year, Black wrote a laudatory book, “Donald J. Trump: A President Like No Other.”

Trump on Wednesday also pardoned Patrick Nolan, a former Republican leader of the California State Assembly who pleaded guilty to a racketeering charge and spent 29 months in federal custody. A conservative prison-reform advocate, he is close to the Trump family, called the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner a "superstar" and attacked special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

Previous Trump pardons have gone to Dinesh D’Souza, a campaign-finance law violator admired by Trump's hard-right allies for his conspiracy-theory attacks on Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama (like Trump, D'Souza promoted "birther" canards about Obama's citizenship), and to Joe Arpaio, the former Arizona sheriff who campaigned for Trump and defied a federal judge's orders while hunting for illegal immigrants.

Other pardon recipients were championed by some conservatives, such as Dwight and Steven Hammond, two Oregon cattle ranchers convicted of arson in a case that led to the armed occupation of a national wildlife refuge.

Trump has also exercised his power for a few nonpolitical figures whose causes were taken up by celebrities. Alice Marie Johnson, serving life without parole for drug offenses, had her sentence commuted after TV star Kim Kardashian West pressed her case in a White House visit.

Flynn reported obstruction try

Documents made public Thursday are likely to whet the appetites of House Democrats to see the redacted parts of Mueller's report and underlying evidence.

In a filing attached to a sentencing memorandum for former national security adviser Mike Flynn, who cooperated with Mueller, federal prosecutors said Flynn provided information about efforts to interfere with or obstruct the investigation.

Before and after his guilty plea, Flynn told Mueller of multiple instances "where either he or his attorneys received communications from persons connected to the Administration or Congress that could have affected both his willingness to cooperate and the completeness of that cooperation.”

A voicemail recording exists of one such contact by a member of the Trump administration, the filing said.

Janison: Roger and out

Dirty trickster Roger Stone loves attention, and now he may be starving for it. Newsday's Dan Janison writes how the Mueller parade in a way has passed Stone by as he awaits trial on charges of lying, obstruction and witness tampering.

Stone has been under a gag order since he posted an Instagram photo in February of the presiding judge, Amy Berman Jackson, alongside what appeared to be crosshairs. He got scant notice in those portions of Mueller's that are public and has fought in court to see the redacted material. Stone's trial date is more than five months away.

De Blasio bid draws Trump darts

If Bill de Blasio was looking to provoke the attention of Trump, and by extension the tens of millions of people around the nation who follow Trump on Twitter and know nothing about New York's mayor, it worked.

De Blasio's first day as a 2020 Democratic presidential aspirant got a morning rocket from the president: "He is a JOKE, but if you like high taxes & crime, he’s your man. NYC HATES HIM!" (One fact merits a check: Crime is at record lows.) Later, as Trump flew to New York on Air Force One for a fundraiser, he made a video with the same message, calling de Blasio "the worst Mayor in the history of New York City and without question, the worst mayor in the United States."

De Blasio, raising the curtain on his candidacy on ABC's "Good Morning America," tried a Trumpian tactic by giving the president a nickname: "Con Don." In a campaign video, he said, “I’m a New Yorker, I've known Trump’s a bully a long time … and I know how to take him on.”

Later Thursday, he flew to Iowa, where the Democratic caucuses are next Feb. 3. Inauspiciously for de Blasio, that's the day after Groundhog Day. For more on the mayor's bid and the challenges he faces on the national stage, see Newsday's story by Emily Ngo.

Trump immigration goal: Wait ’til 2021

In Trump's Rose Garden speech unveiling a "pro-American immigration policy," there was a nod to political reality. It's designed more to be a talking point for the 2020 elections than anything that could get through a divided Congress in the meantime.

“If for some reason, possibly political, we can’t get the Democrats to approve this merit-based, high-security plan, then we will get it approved immediately after the election when we take back the House, keep the Senate and, of course, hold the presidency,” Trump said. “One of the reasons we will win is because of our strong, fair and pro-American immigration policy.

Trump would shift the nation’s visa system to a points-based plan favoring applicants with degrees and in-demand skill sets, while reducing the number of those granted entry via family reunification visas. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called the plan “an insult to our grand tradition of welcoming immigrants from all walks of life.” For more, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

Trump dials down Iran war talk

Trump said Thursday that he hopes the U.S. is not on a path to war with Iran amid fears that his most hawkish advisers could be thirsting for such a conflict.

Asked if the U.S. was going to war with Iran, the president replied, “I hope not." On Capitol Hill, lawmakers who are demanding more information on the White House’s claims of rising Iranian aggression.

Trump told his acting defense secretary, Patrick Shanahan, on Wednesday that he does not want to go to war with Iran, several administration officials told The New York Times.

What else is happening:

  • Trump has made fun of 2020 Democratic contender Pete Buttigieg, but the president told Fox News he sees no problem with the South Bend, Indiana, mayor being openly gay and campaigning with his husband. “I think it’s absolutely fine,” he said. “I think that’s something that perhaps some people will have a problem with. I have no problem with it whatsoever.”
  • New financial disclosure forms show overall revenue from Trump’s business empire largely held steady last year, with a drop in business at his Mar-a-Lago resort and small gains at his Washington hotel and Doral golf club.
  • Trump still doesn't have his Mexican border wall, but he has given officials specific ideas on how it should look — and feel, The Washington Post reports. He wants a steel bollard fence, not concrete. He wants it painted black so it absorbs heat in the summer, making it too hot for climbers to touch. The bollard tips should be pointed to increase the injury risk to anyone who dared scale it.
  • A Fox News poll found 50% of voters don't think Trump is tough enough on North Korea, a 20-point jump since April 2018. Trump has played down recent missile-testing and talked up his relationship with Kim Jong Un.
  • Trump's first EPA chief, Scott Pruitt, and his staff wasted nearly $124,000 in federal funds on premium travel before his highflying ways and other ethics embarrassments led to his exit, according to an inspector general's report. The IG said the agency should be reimbursed but current EPA bosses rejected the recommendation.
  • The Trump administration sought funds from Congress years to pay the Afghanistan Taliban's tab for the expenses of attending peace talks in Qatar, a spokesman for the chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense told Roll Call. The committee said no.
  • Five of the nation’s 10 largest federal law-enforcement agencies are operating with only interim heads, creating concern they lack stable leadership, The Wall Street Journal reported. The five are the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
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