President Donald Trump granted clemency to New York City Police Department (NYPD) hero Bernie Kerik, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), and a host of other individuals on Tuesday, according to The Hill. “Since his conviction, he has focused on improving the lives of others, including as a passionate advocate for criminal justice and prisoner reentry reform,” the White House said of Kerik.
The president’s pardon spree fueled criticism from Democrats that Trump, emboldened by his victory over impeachment, is on a revenge tour to punish his enemies and reward his friends. Trump also pardoned white-collar criminals like Michael Milken and lesser-known individuals whose causes had been championed by liberal activists seeking criminal justice reform.
Trump’s Tuesday pardon spree
Kerik, who briefly served as NYPD’s police commissioner under then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani, was widely seen as a hero for his department’s courageous response to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks when he was nominated by President George W. Bush to lead the Department of Homeland Security — but his record was sullied with a sentencing in 2010 for tax fraud and making false statements.
The former NYPD top cop expressed deep gratitude to President Trump for the full pardon on Tuesday.
“There are no words to express my appreciation and gratitude to President Trump. With the exception of the birth of my children, today is one of the greatest days in my life — being made a full and whole American citizen again,” Kerik said in a statement. “Going to prison is like dying with your eyes open. Its aftermath of collateral consequences and the permanent loss of many of your civil and constitutional rights are personally devastating.”
But the president also pardoned some less-sympathetic figures, like Milken, an infamous white-collar financier known for innovating so-called “junk bonds.” He served a two-year sentence after pleading guilty to securities fraud and insider trading in the early 1990s.
The White House cited Milken’s philanthropy in fighting prostate cancer in explaining the decision, writing in a statement: “Mr. Milken’s philanthropy has been particularly influential in the fight against prostate cancer and has been credited with saving many lives.”
Trump also pardoned former San Francisco 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo Jr., convicted for gambling fraud, according to USA Today, and numerous others, including some lesser-known convicts whose cases attracted the interest of criminal justice reform advocates, the Associated Press reported. Trump has made criminal justice reform a priority as an olive branch to liberals.
The critics come crying
Perhaps the most controversial decision was Trump’s move to commute the 14-year prison sentence for Blagojevich, convicted of corruption in 2010 for trying to “sell” former Illinois Sen. Barack Obama’s seat, according to Fox News. In light of Trump’s commentary on and alleged involvement in Roger Stone’s trial, Trump’s critics didn’t hesitate to slam the move as the action of a thuggish autocrat.
Blagojevich, for his part, effusively praised Trump for showing mercy. “I’m returning home today from a long exile, a freed political prisoner,” he said, according to Politico.
The grant of clemency comes as Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr have faced blowback for allegedly intervening in Stone’s case to lighten the Trump confidant’s punishment for obstruction crimes in the Robert Mueller probe. Democrats have said that Trump is consolidating unprecedented presidential power after his acquittal of impeachment charges, seeking to reward friends and punish enemies, including impeachment witnesses who he fired.
Capping it all off, Trump declared himself this week the “chief law enforcement officer” of the country — a simple fact — fueling fears on the left that the president is ushering in some kind of dictatorship. But while some of his pardons are questionable, the president’s power to issue them is not up for debate.