- The Washington Times
Tuesday, December 22, 2020

President Trump on Tuesday handed out 20 pardons and commutations, including two to men snared in former special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe and three to Republican former congressmen.

The pardons and clemency, arriving just days before Christmas, also went to a group of Blackwater military contractors and two Border Patrol agents who were convicted in high-profile prosecutions.

Other presidents have issued eyebrow-raising pardons in the waning days of their terms, but these 20 acts of clemency were nevertheless stunning by going to individuals both meek and notorious.

A full pardon went to Trump campaign figure George Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to making false statements to federal agents in connection with the Russia probe, which the White House noted did not find any evidence of Trump-Russia collusion.

Mr. Trump also gave a full pardon to Alex van der Zwaan, a Dutch lawyer sentenced to 30 days in jail and a $20,000 fine for lying to Mr. Mueller’s investigators about his contacts with the Trump campaign.

“None of his underlying conduct was alleged to have been unlawful, nor did prosecutors note any prior criminal history,” the White House said in announcing the pardon.

Mr. Trump pardoned Republican former Reps. Duncan Hunter of California and Chris Collins of New York, who were convicted, respectively, of misusing campaign funds and securities fraud.

Both were supporters of Mr. Trump’s presidential run in 2016.

He also commuted the sentence of Steve Stockman, a former congressman from Texas who was convicted in 2018 of perpetrating a charity scam.

Mr. Stockman, 64, has health problems and contracted COVID-19 in prison, prompting calls for his release on humanitarian grounds.

The ex-lawmaker has served two years of a 10-year sentence. He will remain subject to a period of supervised release and an order requiring that he pay more than $1 million in restitution, according to the White House.

Democrats blasted the president’s execution of his clemency powers.

“Lie to cover up for the president? You get a pardon,” tweeted Rep. Adam B. Schiff, California Democrat and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. “Corrupt politician who endorsed Trump? You get a pardon. Murder innocent civilians? You get a pardon. Elect a corrupt man as president? You get a corrupt result.”

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat, tweeted of the president, “I know nothing he does is surprising any more, but what an obscene, partisan, and gross abuse of power. The is the swamp at its muckiest. January 20th can’t come soon enough.”

Mr. Trump granted full pardons to Nicholas Slatten, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard, contractors for the Blackwater security firm who were convicted of killing 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians in 2007 in what came to be known as the Nisour Square massacre.

The military contractors fired live ammunition and threw grenades into a busy traffic roundabout in the square. Slatten was charged with murder and sentenced to life in prison; the others were sentenced to 30 years in prison for manslaughter.

Mr. Trump also granted full pardons to former Border Patrol Agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, who were sentenced to more than a decade in jail for shooting and wounding an illegal immigrant drug smuggler in 2005.

They stopped the smuggler, who was thought to be armed, near the Mexico border. When he resisted arrest, Mr. Ramos shot him and the smuggler fled back into Mexico.

They were charged and convicted of assault, using a firearm during a crime of violence, and deprivation of civil rights.

President George W. Bush commuted their sentence in January 2009, but Mr. Trump said 100 members of Congress support the full pardon.

But Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said on Twitter that the pardons “are another slap in the face to the hardworking women & men who secured convictions for serious crimes.”

“So much for being the *law and order* president,” Mr. Shapiro tweeted.

Former U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri said the clemency for the Blackwater contractors “makes me want to throw up.”

“This pardon dishonors our military in a way that is unspeakable,” she said on Twitter.

A government watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said Mr. Trump was rewarding loyalty and ignoring justice.

“The message Trump has sent tonight is clear: no matter how awful your crime was, justice does not apply to you if you are loyal to him,” the group said in a statement.

Mr. Trump also granted clemency to Alfred Lee Crum, who at 89 is one of the oldest people ever to receive a presidential pardon.

In 1952, when he was 19 years old, Mr. Crum pleaded guilty to helping his uncle illegally distill moonshine in Oklahoma. He served three years of probation and maintained a clean record since, helping raise money for various charitable endeavors.

Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversaw the Mueller probe, had long championed his case.

Also pardoned was Pittsburgh dentist Alfonso Costa, who pleaded guilty in 2007 to defrauding medical insurers of nearly $45,000 and sentenced to one year of house arrest.

Mr. Costa is a close associate of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, who in 2015 declared the former felon his “best friend.”

“Al Costa is my very best friend. I know his heart. I am proud to call him my friend. I have always and will continue to stand by him. That is what real friends do,” Mr. Carson said in a statement while on the 2016 presidential campaign trail.

Mr. Costa’s firm managed a suburban Pittsburgh office building once owned by Mr. Carson. The two have known each other since the mid-1990s, when Mr. Costa helped set up a Pittsburgh chapter of the Carson Scholars Fund, a charity started by Mr. Carson, a former neurosurgeon.

Mr. Costa also donated $2,700 to Mr. Carson’s presidential campaign, the maximum allowable for an individual, according to election records.

Crystal Munoz, a 40-year-old Texas woman, was pardoned by Mr. Trump after her case was taken up by another woman who received clemency from the president.

Former federal inmate Alice Marie Johnson, who was granted clemency in 2018 and was featured in a Trump campaign commercial, championed the cause of Ms. Munoz, who spent 12 years in federal prison for a conviction on marijuana charges.

She was in the same housing unit as Ms. Johnson, and the pair regularly attended church together. In an interview with The Associated Press, Ms. Johnson called her newly pardoned friend “one of my prison daughters.”

Ms. Munoz was sentenced to 20 years in prison after being convicted in 2007. She has maintained that her only role was to draw up maps to help move drugs from Mexico to Texas.

She gave birth while in federal custody and was shackled during her delivery, according to media reports at the time.

Judith Negron, 48, was sent to prison in August 2011 on more than 24 criminal counts, including conspiracy, fraud and money laundering.

Ms. Negron ran a medical billing company, which Justice Department prosecutors claimed was set up for the purpose of laundering $83 million in Medicare payments to others who participated in the fraud.

Ms. Negron has always maintained her innocence, saying she was unaware of the scheme to defraud Medicare. Her two co-conspirators in the case received 50 years and 35 years in prison, respectively.

Before Tuesday, Mr. Trump had granted 28 pardons and 16 commutations. President Barack Obama granted 22 pardons and one commutation in his first term and accelerated the pace significantly in his second term to finish with 212 pardons and 1,715 commutations.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

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