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.
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 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."
Trump has dismissed criticism that he is politicizing the criminal justice system.
“I’m actually, I guess, the chief law enforcement officer of the country,” Trump said when asked whether he had crossed a line by interfering at the Justice Department. “I’ve chosen not to be involved,” but added that he "could be involved if i wanted to be."