President Donald Trump tweeted Thursday he will pardon conservative author and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza, who pleaded guilty to illegally funneling campaign funds to the 2012 Republican challenger to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).
Trump also said he is considering commuting the sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat who tried to sell President Barack Obama’s former U.S. senate seat. Blagojevich, who once appeared as a guest on Trump’s 2010 “Celebrity Apprentice” show, has been in prison since 2012.
And the president said he might pardon Martha Stewart, of East Hampton, the food and home decorating author and television personality who served 5 months in prison on a 2004 conviction for securities fraud.
Trump tweeted his announcement about D’Souza as he left Washington Thursday for political events in Texas: “Will be giving a Full Pardon to Dinesh D’Souza today. He was treated very unfairly by our government!”
D’Souza, an outspoken critic of Obama, is serving a 5-year probation sentence issued in 2014 after he admitted he committed campaign finance fraud to help Wendy Long, a friend from Dartmouth College, in her unsuccessful race against Gillibrand.
Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan who oversaw D’Souza’s case, tweeted, “The President has the right to pardon but the facts are these: D’Souza intentionally broke the law, voluntarily pled guilty, apologized for his conduct & the judge found no unfairness. The career prosecutors and agents did their job. Period.”
D’Souza responded on Twitter: “Bharara & his goons bludgeoned me into the plea by threatening to add a second redundant charge carrying a prison term of FIVE YEARS”
Noting that Trump required Bharara to step down as U.S. attorney, D’Souza added: “KARMA IS A [expletive] DEPT: @PreetBharara wanted to destroy a fellow Indian American to advance his career. Then he got fired & I got pardoned”
D’Souza also thanked Trump on Twitter: “Obama & his stooges tried to extinguish my American dream & destroy my faith in America. Thank you @realDonaldTrump for fully restoring both”
After being charged, D’Souza and his lawyer accused the government of having “selectively targeted” him because of “his outspoken, vigorous and politically controversial criticism and condemnation’” of Obama and his administration.
D’Souza in 2012 released an anti-Obama film, “2016: Obama’s America,” based on his 2010 book, “The Roots of Obama’s Rage.” He resigned as president of King’s College, a Manhattan Christian school, in 2012 amid reports he became engaged before divorcing his wife.
But prosecutors said the charges were nonpolitical and arose out of the FBI’s “routine review” of campaign filings. They said D’Souza was “exploiting the fact that he happens to be an outspoken critic of President Obama in a baseless attempt to avoid criminal prosecution.”
In his guilty plea, D’Souza acknowledged he promised to reimburse two close associates if each would contribute $10,000 to Long’s campaign, an act he said he knew “was wrong and something the law forbids.” He added, “I deeply regret my conduct.”
New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood on Thursday criticized Trump’s pardons of his supporters and called on the state Legislature to change the state’s double-jeopardy law so that those who break its laws cannot evade justice with a presidential pardon.
“President Trump is undermining the rule of law by pardoning a political supporter who is an unapologetic convicted felon,” Underwood said of D’Souza. “First it was Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Then it was Scooter Libby. Now it’s Dinesh D’Souza. We can’t afford to wait to see who will be next.”
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan), a top member of the Judiciary Committee, tweeted that Trump wants “to send a message that silence will be rewarded” to those being contacted by special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.
Trump, who had issued four pardons before Thursday, said he is considering issuing more, naming Stewart and Blagojevich as he spoke to reporters.
“I don’t know him other than that he was on ‘The Apprentice’ for a short period of time,” he said of Blagojevich. “And he’s a Democrat . . . But I thought he was treated unfairly.”
Blagojevich is serving a 14-year sentence for trying to sell Obama’s former Senate seat and for extortion relating to Illinois funds for a children’s hospital and racetrack. In April, the ex-governor’s wife, Patti Blagojevich, made a plea for a pardon on Fox News.
Trump on Thursday also talked about the other people he might pardon. “I think to a certain extent Martha Stewart was harshly and unfairly treated,” he said.
Stewart — who had her own “Apprentice” show in 2005, a spinoff of Trump’s show — was prosecuted by James Comey when he was the U.S. attorney in Manhattan. In his memoir, Comey wrote he agonized over charging Stewart but has since decided it was the right thing to do.
In May 2017, Trump fired Comey as FBI director amid the Russia probe. Trump and Comey have traded barbs on Twitter and in public comments for the past year.
Blagojevich was prosecuted by Pat Fitzgerald, a Comey friend, when he was U.S. attorney in Chicago. Fitzgerald, named special counsel by Comey to investigate the unauthorized leak of the identity of an undercover CIA agent, also won the conviction of Libby, a top aide to then-Vice President Dick Cheney, for obstruction of justice and perjury in that case in 2007.
Trump had previously issued four pardons:
- Former Arizona sheriff Joseph Arpaio, who was convicted of contempt of court for refusing to stop targeting Hispanics to check their citizenship;
- Kristian Mark Saucier, a Navy sailor whose defense in his conviction for photographing classified areas of a nuclear submarine was that Hillary Clinton was not prosecuted for having classified emails on her private email server;
- I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, convicted of obstruction of justice, false statements and perjury in the revelation of an uncover CIA operative;
- Jack Johnson, the first black boxing champion convicted in 1913 for violating the segregation-era Mann Act for taking a white woman across state lines for “immoral purposes.”