President Donald Trump announced on Tuesday a wave of pre-Christmas pardons that included two people convicted of lying to U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller during the Russia investigation.
The announcement came just minutes before the president seemed to threaten to veto the COVID-19 stimulus package that Congress passed almost 24 hours earlier, leading to accusations that he was ‘burying bad news’.
He told lawmakers to boost checks for Americans to $2,000 and make other modifications after sitting out talks for months.
Trump called the bill ‘a disgrace’ and said he may leave Americans waiting even longer for the much-needed financial relief by using his veto if another more ‘suitable bill’ wasn’t sent to him.
Trump’s words caused shock just after the White House revealed he had granted full pardons to 15 people, including three former Republican lawmakers, and commuted all or part of the sentences of five others.
Other lame duck pardons included four Blackwater guards contracted by the government who were convicted in connection with the killing of 17 Iraqi civilians in a 2007 massacre in Baghdad.
Among the others of the list were two Border Patrol agents convicted in 2006 of shooting and wounding an unarmed undocumented immigrant and then covering it up; and several people convicted of non-violent drug crimes serving lengthy sentences.
Many of the pardons had been on the recommendation of allies in Congress, the conservative media or, in the case of the non-violent drug offenders, on the urging of Alice Johnson, a former inmate whose sentence was commuted after campaigning from Kim Kardashian West.
George Papadopoulos, a former campaign aide, pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to FBI agents about contact with people with alleged ties to Russian officials
Alex Van der Zwaan was sentenced to 30 days in prison and fined $20,000 for lying to investigators about contacts with an official in Trump’s 2016 campaign
The White House announced Tuesday that President Donald Trump had granted full pardons to 15 people and commuted all or part of the sentences of five others
President Trump’s pre-Christmas pardons
George Papadopoulos – Lying to the FBI – Full pardon
Alex van der Zwaan – Lying to Mueller’s investigators – Full pardon
Dustin Heard – killing Iraqi civilians – Full pardon
Evan Liberty – killing Iraqi civilians – Full pardon
Nicholas Slatten – killing Iraqi civilians -Full pardon
Paul Slough – killing Iraqi civilians – Full pardon
Chris Collins – Conspiring to commit securities fraud and making false statements to the FBI – Full pardon
Duncan Hunter – Stealing about $150,000 from his campaign funds to pay for a lavish lifestyle – Full pardon
Steve Stockman – Conspiring to bilk at least $775,000 from conservative foundations that intended the donations for charities – Commuted sentence
Border control agents
Ignacio Ramos – Assault with a dangerous weapon, lying about the incident – Full pardon
Jose Compean – Assault with a dangerous weapon, lying about the incident – Full pardon
Weldon Angelos – Sentenced to 55 years in prison for bringing guns to marijuana deals – Full pardon
Alfred Lee Crum – Helping his wife´s uncle illegally distill moonshine – Full pardon
Alfonso Costa – Pleaded guilty to a health care fraud charge related to false billing – Full pardon
Philip Esformes – Convicted on 20 criminal counts in what prosecutors described as a $1 billion Medicare fraud scheme, one of the biggest such cases in U.S. history – Full pardon
Philip Lyman – Served 10 days in prison after he led a protest of about 50 ATV riders in a canyon home to Native American cliff dwellings that officials closed to motorized traffic – Full pardon
Otis Gordon – Convicted of drug possession charge – Full pardon
Crystal Munoz – Received a 20-year prison sentence on a drug conspiracy charge after being convicted for her role in a marijuana smuggling ring – Commuted sentence
Tynice Nichole Hall – Received an 18-year sentence for allowing her apartment to be used to distribute drugs – Commuted sentence
Judith Negron – Received 35 years at a Florida prison for health care fraud, conspiracy and money laundering – Commuted sentence
George Papadopoulos, 33, will be among the most controversial of the president’s audacious holiday pardons.
Trump awarded a full pardon to Papadopoulos, a former campaign aide, who pleaded guilty as part of the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
He pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to FBI agents about the timing and significance of his contacts with people who claimed to have ties to top Russian officials.
‘The defendant’s crime was serious and caused damage to the government´s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election,’ a sentencing recommendation memo from then-U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller had said.
He served 12 days of a 14-day sentence in federal prison, then was placed on a 12-month supervised release.
‘I made a terrible mistake,’ he told the judhe during his sentence hearing.
‘In hindsight, lying to federal agents about such a critical issue could have harmed our nation.’
Yet since his release he has railed against investigators and how they caught him.
The White House said Papadopoulos was charged with ‘a process-related crime, one count of making false statements,’ as part of the Mueller probe, which Trump had denounced as a witch hunt.
‘Today’s pardon helps correct the wrong that Mueller´s team inflicted on so many people,’ the White House said.
Trump also pardoned Alex van der Zwaan, 36, the Dutch son-in-law of Russian billionaire German Khan.
Khan is named in the notorious ‘golden showers’ dossier on Trump which was drawn up by British spy Christopher Steele.
Van der Zwaan was sentenced to 30 days in prison and fined $20,000 for lying to Mueller’s investigators about contacts with an official in Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Van Der Zwaan admitted that he wasn’t truthful about his dealings with Rick Gates, ex-Trump camapaign chair Paul Manafort’s deputy.
He was ensnared by his own notes, emails, and recordings – which he failed to turn over to his law firm when prosecutors asked for them.
Iraq war criminals
Among the other pardons were Nicholas Slatten, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard, who were among seven Blackwater employees who opened fire in the Nusoor Square traffic circle in Baghdad, killing 17 people.
While escorting a diplomatic convoy, the guards opened fire in the bustling square with sniper rifles, machine guns and grenade launchers – allegedly without provocation – leaving at least 14 civilians dead and at least 18 wounded.
The Iraqi government says the toll was higher at 17 but the FBI found that only 14 of the deaths were unjustified.
The former veterans had been working as contractors for the State Department.
It caused an international uproar over the use of private security guards in a war zone and took a complicated path since the killings.
Prosecutors asserted the heavily armed Blackwater convoy launched an unprovoked attack using sniper fire, machine guns and grenade launchers.
Defense lawyers argued their clients returned fire after being ambushed by Iraqi insurgents.
Their defense had argued that Slatten and the other Blackwater contractors opened fire only after they saw what they mistakenly thought was a potential suicide car bomber moving quickly toward their convoy.
And their supporters had lobbied for pardons, arguing that the men had been excessively punished in an investigation and prosecution they said was tainted by problems and withheld exculpatory evidence.
They were convicted by a federal jury in 2014 after a lengthy trial in which 30 witnesses travel from Iraq to testify against them.
Each man defiantly asserted his innocence at a sentencing hearing the following year.
Former Blackwater Worldwide guard Nicholas Slatten leaves federal court in 2014
Among the other pardons were Nicholas Slatten, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard, former contractors at Blackwater Worldwide convicted of killing Iraqi civilians
Blackwater Worldwide security guards,middle row from left, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, Donald Ball, Nick Slatten and Dustin Heard appear in federal court with their attorneys in 2008
Slough, Liberty and Heard, were sentenced to 30 years in prison, though after a federal appeals court ordered them to be re-sentenced, they were each given substantially shorter punishments.
Slatten, whom prosecutors blamed for igniting the firefight, was sentenced to life in prison.
A federal appeals court later cut Slatten’s first-degree murder conviction, but the Justice Department tried him again and secured another life sentence last year.
‘Mr. Slatten, Mr. Slough, Mr. Liberty, and Mr. Heard have a long history of service to the Nation,’ the White House said in the pardon announcement.
‘Prosecutors recently disclosed—more than 10 years after the incident—that the lead Iraqi investigator, who prosecutors relied heavily on to verify that there were no insurgent victims and to collect evidence, may have had ties to insurgent groups himself,’ they also claimed.
Blackwater Worldwide, now named Academi, is a private security company founded by former Navy SEAL officer Erik Prince, an ally of Trump and the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Earlier this year, the New York Times also reported that Prince recruited former American and British spies to perform sting operations and infiltrate Democratic organizations.
According to the newspaper, Prince had gotten in touch with multiple former spies saying that he wanted to arm the Project Veritas employees with knowledge of how to recruit sources, perform secret recording and engage in other surveillance techniques.
At the time of the massacre, Blackwater contractors were notorious in Baghdad and frequently accused of firing shots at the slightest pretext, including to clear their way in traffic.
The shooting in the traffic circle stood out for the number killed, but was far from an isolated event in Iraq at the time.
The pardons reflect Trump’s apparent willingness to give the benefit of the doubt to American servicemembers and contractors when it comes to acts of violence in warzones against civilians.
Last November, he pardoned a former U.S. Army commando who was set to stand trial next year in the killing of a suspected Afghan bombmaker and a former Army lieutenant convicted of murder for ordering his men to fire upon three Afghans.
Also pardoned was former Republican Representative Steve Stockman of Texas, 64, pictured above who was convicted in 2018 of misuse of charitable funds
Trump also issued a full pardon to former Republican Rep Duncan Hunter (right) who pleaded guilty a year ago to a single count of conspiring to convert campaign funds to personal use and former Representative Chris Collins (left) of New York who pled guilty to the charges of conspiring to commit securities fraud and making false statements to the FBI
Also receiving pardons Tuesday were three former Republican lawmakers, including former Representative Chris Collins of New York.
Collins, 70, had been the first sitting member of Congress to endorse Trump’s candidacy in 2016 and was a strong defender of the president.
He won re-election in 2018 but resigned the next year.
Collins was sentenced to serve two months in federal prison after he admitted to helping his son and others dodge $800,000 in stock market losses when he learned that a drug trial by a small pharmaceutical company had failed.
‘In 2019, Collins pled guilty to the charges of conspiring to commit securities fraud and making false statements to the FBI. Collins is currently serving his 26-month sentence,’ the White House said.
Trump also issued a full pardon to former Republican Representative Duncan Hunter of California, 44, who pleaded guilty a year ago to a single count of conspiring to convert campaign funds to personal use, a felony carrying a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
Also pardoned was former Republican Representative Steve Stockman of Texas, 64, who was convicted in 2018 of misuse of charitable funds.
He was found guilty of conspiring to bilk at least $775,000 from conservative foundations that intended the donations for charities and voter education.
Prosecutors said Stockman, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 until 1997, and from 2013 until 2015, misused donations from the foundations for personal and political use.
He failed in his 2014 bid for the U.S. Senate.
The White House said Stockman had contracted coronavirus while in federal prison and has served more than two years of his 10-year sentence.
Officials said he will still be required to serve some time under supervised release and pay about $1 million in restitution.
Border Patrol agents convicted in 2006 of shooting and wounding an unarmed undocumented immigrant
Former U.S. Border Patrol agent Jose Alonso Compean was sentence for assault with a dangerous weapon and lying about the incident after shooting an unarmed undocumented immigrant in 2006. He claimed the man waved a gun but was found to have lied
Trump granted full pardons to Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean which was supported by one hundred members of Congress.
According to the White House, in 2005, they stopped a Mexican drug smuggler named Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila ‘trafficking 700 pounds of marijuana’ near El Paso, Texas.
‘When the illegal alien—who was thought to be armed—resisted arrest, Mr. Ramos shot the suspect, who fled back across the border,’ they added.
‘For this, Mr. Ramos and Mr. Compean were charged and convicted of assault, using a firearm during a crime of violence, and deprivation of civil rights. After they were sentenced to 11 and 12 years imprisonment, respectively, their case gained widespread attention.’
Aldrete-Davila, however, had argued that he was trying to surrender to the agents when Compean attempted to beat him with a shotgun and was then shot as he tried to escape.
Investigators said the agents never reported the shooting and tried to cover it up.
They received 11- and 12-year prison sentences for assault with a dangerous weapon, lying about the incident and violating Aldrete-Davila’s Fourth Amendment right against illegal search and seizure.
Their sentences had previously been commuted by President George W. Bush.
Aldrete-Davila was later arrested in 2007 on charges of bringing more than 750 pounds of marijuana into the U.S.
Pardons awarded to people convicted of non-violent drug crimes
Weldon Angelos, pictured above, who was sentenced to 55 years in prison for selling marijuana and carrying a handgun, also received a full pardon
Pastor Otis Gordan, convicted of drug possession charges, was issued a full pardon
Trump also commuted the remaining term of the supervised release of Crystal Munoz, who was convicted of conspiracy to distribute marijuana.
She had served 12 years of a 20-year prison sentence on a drug conspiracy charge after being convicted for her role in a marijuana smuggling ring.
She contended her only role was drawing a map others allegedly used in moving the drugs from Mexico to Texas and that her lawyer failed to adequately defend her.
Munoz spent years in a federal prison in Fort Worth, with Johnson who had recommended here pardon as well as the pardon of two other women convicted of drug crimes: Tynice Nichole Hall and Judith Negron.
Trump has commuted the remainder of Hall’s term of supervised release.
He previously commuted her term of incarceration after she had served nearly 14 years of an 18-year sentence for allowing her apartment to be used to distribute drugs.
The president also commuted the remainder of Negron’s term of supervised release after he commuted her term of incarceration after she had served 8 years of her sentence.
She was sentenced to 35 years for her role as a minority-owner of a healthcare company engaged in a scheme to defraud the Federal Government
Weldon Angelos, who was sentenced to 55 years in prison when he was 24 years old for selling marijuana and carrying a handgun, also received a full pardon.
‘Because of mandatory minimums, Mr. Angelos was sentenced in 2002 to 55 years’ imprisonment,’ the White House said.
‘The presiding judge called this excessive sentence “unjust and cruel and even irrational”.’
He had no criminal record before he was convicted of selling $350 worth of marijuana to a police informant three times and prosecutors argued he was a gang member who carried a gun during two of those deals, though he was not accused of using or showing a weapon.
The music producer was freed from prison in 2016 after serving 13 years.
Utah Sen. Mike Lee petitioned former President Barack Obama to grant clemency to Angelos, as did the former federal judge who sentenced Angelos.
Obama did not commute Angelos´ sentence but the man was instead released from prison after receiving a sentence reduction in court.
‘His story has been cited as an inspiration for sentencing reform, including the First Step Act, and he participated in a Prison Reform Summit at the White House in 2018,’ the White House added.
‘In his own words, Mr. Angelos wants “to become whole again and put the bad choices in the past and continue changing the world for the better”.’
Pastor Otis Gordan also received a full pardon after being convicted of drug possession charges.
The White House said he became a pastor at Life Changer’s International Ministries after his conviction, mentors at-risk kids and led a prayer session at the United States Capitol after the 2015 shooting at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Other Trump Christmas pardons
Dr. Ben Carson, center, flanked by Al Costa, right. Carson maintained a business relationship with Costa, who was convicted of defrauding insurance companies and testified on his behalf
Among the others pardons by Trump on Tuesday was Alfonso Costa, a dentist who pleaded guilty to health care fraud related to false billing, who is also a close friend and business partner of Ben Carson.
The Trump administration said he took full responsibility for his conduct, served two years of probation, and paid nearly $300,000 in fines and restitution.
Alfred Lee Crum, 89, received his pardon this week after pleading guilty in 1952—when he was 19 years old—to helping his wife’s uncle illegally distill moonshine in Oklahoma.
The White House said he had served three years probation and has maintained a clean record since.
Philip Lyman, a county commissioner in Utah, pictured above in 2014, who was sentenced to 10 days in jail related to his protest of ATV restrictions on federal land
The pardons list was completed by Philip Lyman, a county commissioner in Utah who was sentenced to 10 days in jail related to his protest of ATV restrictions on federal land; and Philip Esformes, a Florida nursing home mogul convicted of paying bribes in a Medicare fraud case.
Esformes was convicted on 20 criminal counts in what prosecutors described as a $1 billion scheme, one of the biggest such cases in U.S. history.
Lyman’s arrest came amid a push against federal control of large swaths of land and happened in the wake of an armed confrontation that Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy had with Bureau of Land Management over grazing fees.
The Trump administration in 2017 lifted a ban on motorized vehicles in parts of the canyon but left restrictions in place through other areas where Lyman led his ride.
The pardons were part of a flurry of such actions expected by the outgoing Republican president before Democratic President-elect Joe Biden takes office on January 20.
His actions in his final weeks in office show a president who is wielding his executive power to reward loyalists and others who he believes have been wronged by a legal system he sees as biased against him and his allies.
Trump, who has refused to concede, has made unsubstantiated claims of widespread voting fraud and pursued a series of unsuccessful lawsuits to overturn the result.
Last month, Trump pardoned his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who had twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI during the Russia investigation. The Flynn pardon drew condemnation from Democrats and other critics.