WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has issued pardons to his former strategist Steve Bannon and rapper Lil Wayne, among 143 people awarded pardons or commutations in his final hours in office.
The list of names issued by the White House includes names unfamiliar to the American public – regular people who have spent years languishing in prison – as well as politically connected friends and allies like those he’s pardoned in the past.
Bannon has been charged with duping thousands of investors who believed their money would be used to fulfill Trump’s chief campaign promise to build a wall along the southern border. Instead, he allegedly diverted over a million dollars, paying a salary to one campaign official and personal expenses for himself.
Bannon did not respond to questions Tuesday.
Dwayne Michael Carter Jr., the rapper known as Lil Wayne was granted a full pardon for charges of possession of a firearm and ammunition by a conviction felon. The White House statement noted the rapper has been involved in charitable activities including donations to research hospitals and food banks.
Trump has already pardoned a slew of longtime associates and supporters, including his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort; Charles Kushner, the father of his son-in-law; his longtime friend and adviser Roger Stone; and his former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Nearly two weeks after the rampage at the U.S. Capitol, some participants arrested and charged have already asked the president to pardon them, including the notorious horn-man Jacob Chansley. The president has been urged not to provide clemency for anyone involved in the violence at the Capitol, especially a preemptive pardon for himself, to fend off potential charges that he incited the riot.
“It’s perfectly legal for Trump to pardon as many people as he wants. Maybe except for himself,” ABC7 Chicago legal analyst Gil Soffer told the I-Team.
It is not clear if Trump could legally pardon himself.
“It’s simply a question that has never been tested legally in any court or otherwise and there are conflicting views among legal scholars about whether a president can pardon himself. So, that’s why there’s a question mark hanging over it and of course there’s also political considerations about whether he should, but as a matter of law, it’s simply not clear,” Soffer explained. There’s nothing in the law that says he cannot pardon himself, nothing in the Constitution that says he cannot pardon himself. But nevertheless, there are questions in the law about whether that’s an appropriate use of the pardon.”
Trump was personally involved in the effort to sift through requests, mostly from first-time drug offenders sentenced to life, rejecting some applications and greenlighting others, according to one of the people involved in the effort. Also playing a key role has been the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, who personally met with advocates, reviewed cases and brought them to the Department of Justice and pardon attorney.
Jessica Jackson, a lawyer and criminal justice advocate who has been working with the administration, said that she came to Ivanka Trump with the case of Darrell Frazier, who has served more than 29 years of a life sentence with no parole for his role in a drug conspiracy. While incarcerated, he founded a non-profit foundation in Tennessee that teaches tennis to 100-200 kids a week.
“I heard his story and brought it to Ivanka,” said Jackson. “Once she heard the story, she took it to the DOJ, she took it to the pardon attorney.”
Trump had been expected to move forward with additional pardons and commutations earlier this month, but discussions were put on hold after the insurrection at the Capitol by pro-Trump rioters incited by the president’s fiery and baseless election challenges. That threw an already paralyzed White House into even further chaos.
Trump has since been impeached for a second time and a sense of wariness has set in, with the president’s inner circle fearful of doing anything that could provoke a conviction in the Senate that would potentially bar him from ever holding office again.
Unless President Trump decides to let a few hundred people off the hook on his way out the door, he won’t even end up on the top ten list of presidents who have issued pardons. Franklin Roosevelt pardoned more than 2,800 over three terms. Mr. Trump has issued 70 to date. He is unlikely even to beat Bill Clinton for the most last-day pardons; Clinton issued 140, including some highly controversial choices.
While we do not know yet who may be granted pardons or commutations, we do know some of the potential names are controversial.
That list includes former speaker of the New York State Assembly, Sheldon Silver, who is serving 12 years in prison for bribery.
The list also includes an unlikely name, rapper Lil Wayne, who plead guilty to felony gun possession in November.