Wednesday, 19 February 2020

The Madness of Donald Trump

The BBC reports that Donald Trump has again abused his presidential powers by freeing another gang of convicted felons from prison.

A corrupt politician, a former New York police commissioner, a former media mogul, a former financier and a previous owner of the San Francisco 49ers have all been shown clemency by Trump.

Surely part of a Trump strategy to normalise wrongdoing in public office and in public life?

The BBC asks why did Trump just free a jailed Democrat, but the reality is that political allegiances are worn very lightly in America - Trump himself was a Democrat until recently.

Not just that, I'm sure it helped that Blagojevich's wife Patti has been all over Fox News attacking the investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller into Trump's links with Russia.


Rod Blagojevich: Why did Trump just free a jailed Democrat?

By Tara McKelvey - BBC

Image copyright - JOE AMON Image caption - Rod Blagojevich, shown in 2012, could be released prison early

US President Donald Trump has commuted the prison sentence of Rod Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor convicted of trying to sell Barack Obama's vacated US Senate seat.

But why would the Republican president, who once promised to drain the swamp, show mercy to a Democrat viewed by critics as the embodiment of dirty politics?

Even the president's fellow party members in Illinois criticised his decision.

The state's House Republican delegation said in a statement: "Blagojevich is the face of public corruption in Illinois and not once has he shown any remorse."

But Trump was having none of it. "That was a tremendously powerful, ridiculous sentence," he told reporters on Tuesday.

Who else did Trump show mercy to?

Blagojevich wasn't the only beneficiary of presidential mercy on Tuesday. Trump went on a clemency spree, including to three high-profile figures with powerful friends:
  • Bernie Kerik, a former New York police commissioner, pleaded guilty to tax fraud and other charges and was sentenced to prison in 2010. His celebrity supporters include 
  • Christopher Ruddy, the head of Newsmax Media, and the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani 
  • Michael Milken, a financier who rose to prominence in the 1980s, was convicted of securities fraud. Celebrity supporter: Fox host Maria Bartiromo
  • Edward DeBartolo Jr, the former owner of the San Francisco 49ers, pleaded guilty in 1998 to offences related to a gambling scandal. Celebrity supporters: Ohio Pastor Darrell Scott and former NFL player Jerry Rice
Even before he won the White House, Trump expressed sympathy for Blagojevich, who was convicted of flagrant corruption.

In 2008, he was responsible for naming someone to fill the Senate seat of Obama, who had been elected president.
Image copyright - NYEIN CHAN NAING Image - caption - Representative Jan Schakowsky, a Democrat, asked a judge to release Blagojevich early

Blagojevich, who was twice elected governor, spoke about the political opportunity on the phone with another state official, describing his plans to sell or trade the Democratic safe seat.

"I've got this thing," Blagojevich said, describing the seat as "golden".

The governor - who loved the camera and was known for always having a hairbrush handy - said: "I'm just not giving it up… for nothing."

Blagojevich, 63, also tried to obtain campaign funds in exchange for legislation that would help the race-track industry.

He attempted to pressure an executive at a children's hospital into contributing money to his campaigns.

Blagojevich was convicted of soliciting bribes, attempted extortion and wire fraud, and was sentenced to 14 years. His release date was projected for 2024 until Trump stepped in.
Image copyright - GETTY IMAGES

Before he was put behind bars in 2012, Blagojevich appeared on Trump's Celebrity Apprentice TV show.

After he was convicted in a retrial a year earlier, Trump told the Hollywood Reporter he felt bad for him.

The president's support for Blagojevich offers a case study in his approach to presidential power and the justice system.

Trump has his own grievances about investigations - he has called Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russian inquiry a "witch hunt".

On Trump's favourite news channel Fox News last year, Blagojevich's wife, Patti, depicted her husband as the victim of over-zealous prosecutors, drawing parallels with the president's experience during the Mueller investigation.

Mueller was FBI director when her husband was arrested, and former FBI Director James Comey - another Trump foe - is friends with a former US attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald, who prosecuted Blagojevich.

Patti Blagojevich laid out these connections in interviews.
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The prosecution team behind the Blagojevich case said on Tuesday that despite the president lawfully exercising his clemency powers, the former governor "remains a felon, convicted of multiple serious acts of corruption".

Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a historian and cultural critic at New York University, says: "He [Trump] clearly identifies with this man who has a harsh sentence and is a fighter.

"He likes that kind of swagger."

She says the president's public views of Blagojevich "helps to create this culture in politics where loyalty is valued over ethics, and where corruption is not necessarily a negative thing".

Others point out that Trump has never condoned Blagojevich's crimes, but has focused instead on the perceived harshness of the sentence.

Brennan Hart, a political consultant in Alexandria, Virginia, who worked on Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, says the president "likes people who are a little bit over the top - like a caricature of a manly man".

"He's not saying it's OK," says Hart, referring to the president's attitude towards Blagojevich's offences. "He's saying, it's been long enough."

Presidential clemency has been a politically fraught issue for decades. President Bill Clinton pardoned a former business partner, Susan McDougal, who went to jail because she refused to testify in the Whitewater real-estate scandal.

President George HW Bush pardoned key figures in the Iran-contra scandal, in which he himself was implicated.

But Trump's critics say he has gone further in the way he has politicised clemency.

David Litt, a former Obama speechwriter and the author of a memoir, Thanks, Obama, says Trump's clemency for Blagojevich reveals "his own victimhood narrative".

He says it will "send a message to other people who might be considering a variety of corrupt practises: if you get caught, he'll have your back".

Trump's Arrogance Knows No Bounds (12/02/20)

Donald Trump behaves like a King or an Emperor these days, as he seeks to silence critics and bully the US  justice system into acting leniently towards his political cronies and friends. 

Read the full story in the link below to the Guardian.

Donald Trump has denounced prosecutors’ recommendation of a seven- to nine-year prison sentence for his former aide Roger Stone, tweeting: “Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!”

The president sent his message a little before 2am on Tuesday, after a rally in New Hampshire and a visit to Delaware to honour two US soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, it seemed the tweet would have its desired effect.

The Washington Post quoted a “senior justice department official” as saying: “The department finds the recommendation extreme and excessive and disproportionate to Stone’s offences. The department will clarify its position later today.”

The Post characterised the move as “a stunning rebuke of career prosecutors that will surely raise questions about political meddling in the case”.

In November, Stone was found guilty of lying to Congress, thereby obstructing the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, and tampering with a witness in his efforts to learn about emails hacked from Democratic sources.

On Monday, federal prosecutors said a seven- to nine-year sentence would “accurately reflect the seriousness of his crimes and promote respect for the law”.

Trump disagreed, writing: “This is a horrible and very unfair situation. The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them. Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!”

Trump regularly claims exoneration in the Russia investigation. In his report, the special counsel Robert Mueller did not establish a criminal conspiracy between Trump aides and Moscow but did outline extensive contacts between the campaign and Russian sources and numerous instances of possible obstruction of justice by the president or his aides.

Trump has indicated he might pardon Stone.

In November, in a statement regarding her husband’s alleged role in leaking nude photos of Melania Trump during the 2016 election, Stone’s wife, Nydia, told the Guardian: “No one supported the president’s election more strongly than Roger Stone.”

The night before Stone was convicted, Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist who hosts the InfoWars web show on which Stone and Trump have guested, said he was relaying a message to Trump from his former aide.

“I appeal to the president to pardon me,” it read, “because to do so would be an action that would show these corrupt courts that they’re not going to get away with persecuting people for their free speech or for the crime of getting the president elected.”

Lawyers for the 67-year-old self-confessed political dirty trickster asked for a lesser sentence, citing his age and comparatively lenient sentences handed to other Trump aides in cases arising from Mueller’s work on the Russia investigation.

One such sentence approaches the severity of that recommended for Stone. Paul Manafort, Trump’s 70-year-old former campaign chair, was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison on financial and witness tampering charges.

On Monday night, Trump also labelled the prosecutors’ request in Stone’s case “Disgraceful!” and retweeted messages from a reporter for the Daily Caller, a conservative website.

The reporter, Chuck Ross, wrote: “A [nine-year] prison recommendation for non-violent crimes committed by a 67-year-old man.”

Regarding witness tampering by Stone, Ross added: “Prosecutors disregard [government] witness Randy Credico’s plea for no jail time for Stone on the grounds that he didn’t take Stone’s threats seriously.”

Prosecutors contended that a tough sentence for Stone “will send the message that tampering with a witness, obstructing justice, and lying in the context of a congressional investigation on matters of critical national importance are not crimes to be taken lightly”.

Trump's Cronies (15/11/19)

Yet another of Donald Trump's cronies is facing a long prison sentence - Roger Stone is the 6th Trump aide or adviser convicted in a criminal case arising from Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Trump ally Roger Stone convicted of lying to Congress

Image copyright - REUTERS Image caption - Roger Stone arriving at court with his wife Nydia to learn his fate

US President Donald Trump's adviser Roger Stone has been convicted on seven counts of lying to Congress, obstruction and witness tampering.

The court heard he lied about his efforts to learn more about when WikiLeaks would publish damaging emails about Hillary Clinton in 2016.

The jury returned its verdict on day two of deliberations in Washington DC.

Witness tampering carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. The other counts can carry five years each.

The court heard Stone lied in September 2017 during his testimony to the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee's inquiry into alleged Russian interference in the US elections a year earlier.

He was asked about WikiLeaks' release of damaging emails about Mrs Clinton - President Donald Trump's Democratic rival in the vote.
Who is Roger Stone? 

US intelligence officials and Department of Justice Special Counsel Robert Mueller later concluded those messages had been stolen by Russian hackers.

Stone is the sixth Trump aide or adviser convicted in a criminal case resulting from Mr Mueller's since-concluded investigation.

The trial heard Stone had told five lies under oath, including about his conversations with Trump campaign officials and a supposed "intermediary" with WikiLeaks in early August 2016.

He also lied about the existence of certain texts or emails.

Prosecutors told the court that Stone had made the false statements to protect Mr Trump's image.

Stone - who did not take the stand during the trial - maintained the case against him was politically motivated.

Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon testified against Stone during the trial.

Mr Bannon told the court that Stone had boasted about his links to WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange.

Stone had also tipped off the Trump campaign about new batches of damaging emails.

He told Congress his intermediary with WikiLeaks was New York radio host and comedian Randy Credico, who interviewed Assange in 2016.

But prosecutors said Stone's actual go-between with WikiLeaks was a conservative author, Jerome Corsi.

When Credico later testified to US lawmakers, he said Stone had advised him to "do a 'Frank Pentangeli'" - referring to a character in the Godfather movies who lies to Congress.

Stone also threatened Credico's therapy dog, Bianca, saying he was "going to take that dog away from you", the trial heard."