Donald Trump was busy on Tuesday.
In the space of less than 12 hours, the President suggested he may sue everyone involved in the Mueller probe, appeared to throw his support behind Roger Stone’s long-shot bid for a new trial, accused the DNC of trying to defraud Bernie Sanders, commuted the sentence of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and, of course, pardoned Michael Milken, a move championed by a long list of high- profile personalities and donors in Trump’s orbit, including Nelson Peltz, who held a $10 million fundraiser for Trump over the weekend.
Trump also pardoned former New York City police Commissioner Bernard Kerik (who was sentenced to nearly a half-decade in prison for failing to pay taxes) and former San Francisco 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo Jr., who pleaded guilty more than 20 years ago after failing to report an extortion scheme in which he paid $400,000 to former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards to obtain a riverboat gambling license. Trump scored some points with the NFL for the move. “I take my hat off to Donald Trump for what he did”, Jerry Rice said. “[This is] a great day”.
As amusing as all of that is, most of it is wholly unsurprising. As far as Stone goes, Trump spent the better part of last week congratulating Bill Barr on intervening in Stone’s sentencing process, an episode which plunged the Justice Department further into crisis.
On Sanders, Trump regularly reminds America that Bernie may have been effectively robbed of the 2016 Democratic nomination, and although the president’s motives for pushing that line in 2020 remain somewhat murky, there seems to be a connection to Michael Bloomberg’s rise in the polls.
The Crooked DNC is working overtime to take the Democrat Nomination away from Bernie, AGAIN! Watch what happens to the Super Delegates in Round Two. A Rigged Convention!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 18, 2020
Commenting Tuesday on Barr’s ABC interview during which the AG essentially advised the president to stop tweeting about the DOJ, Trump mused about the sheer scope of his authority. “I’m actually, I guess, the chief law enforcement officer of the country”, he said, asked whether it’s advisable that he keeps interfering with the Justice Department. “I could be involved if I wanted to be”.
The Blagojevich commutation is, among other things, an effort to score a small victory against James Comey. As Bloomberg reminds you, former US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald who prosecuted Blagojevich’s case “is friends with Comey and served as his personal lawyer”.
Blagojevich famously tried to sell Obama’s vacant Senate seat, which he called “a valuable thing [that] you don’t just give away for nothing” on an FBI wiretap.
Trump – a man who knows a thing or two about getting himself in trouble for wayward comments on phone calls – said this of Blagojevich last year: “He’s been in jail for seven years over a phone call where nothing happens — over a phone call which he shouldn’t have said what he said, but it was braggadocio, you would say”.
That was in early August. Weeks later, it would emerge that Trump, in July, attempted to compel Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 US election by leveraging US military aid to prod the fledgling Volodymyr Zelensky government into opening investigations into Joe Biden and his family.
“I would think that there have been many politicians… that have said a lot worse over the telephone”, Trump said of Blagojevich, on August 8, less than two weeks after his infamous call with Zelensky. “I’m not one of them, by the way”, the president added. (I know – it’s almost too silly to be true.)
In 2010, after his indictment, but prior to being convicted, Blagojevich made a cameo on “The Celebrity Apprentice”, something Trump said showed “a lot of guts”. (Spoiler alert: Blagojevich was fired on the show.)
Blagojevich’s wife Patti- who Trump has called “fantastic”, among other things – has variously made her husband’s case on Fox News. “He’ll be able to go back to his family after serving eight years in jail, which was a powerful and ridiculous sentence in my opinion”, Trump told reporters on Tuesday.
There is, of course, absolutely nothing about this that’s consistent with Trump’s campaign pledge to “drain” any “swamps”, something Illinois Republican congressmen Darin LaHood, John Shimkus, Adam Kinzinger, Rodney Davis and Mike Bost made clear to Trump in a 2019 letter. Below is a passage from that letter:
It’s important that we take a strong stand against pay-to-play politics, especially in Illinois, where four of our last eight governors have gone to federal prison for public corruption. Commuting the sentence of Rod Blagojevich, who has a clear and documented record of egregious corruption, sets a dangerous precedent and goes against the trust voters place in elected officials.
Local lawmakers penned a similar exhortation in 2018.
In April of 2018, Blagojevich’s wife told the Chicago Sun-Times that the same “characters” who “did it” to her family were “trying to do it again to the president”. At the time, the Mueller probe was still unfolding.
You can understand why Trump is so enamored with Patti, who is, by the president’s account, “one hell of a woman”. Blagojevich’s trials and tribulations were the work of “the Comey gang and all these sleazebags”, Trump declared last year.
For what it’s worth, that really isn’t true. As The Washington Post writes, Comey “was in the private sector at the time of Blagojevich’s prosecution and conviction in December 2011”, although the FBI director at the time of his arrest was Mueller.
Patti showed up more than a half-dozen times on shows including Tucker Carlson Tonight and The Ingraham Angle”. As The Daily Beast chuckles, “the hosts didn’t even bother with subtlety during the interviews. For instance, Tucker Carlson asked Mrs. Blagojevich what she would say “if you could speak to the president.”
And it just goes on, and on, and on.
In Kerik’s case, for example, Trump was egged on by Rudy Giuliani, under whom Kerik served. Rudy also represented him. “Today is one of the greatest days of my life”, Kerik beamed.
In addition to Peltz, the list of those who encouraged Trump to pardon Milken included Steve Mnuchin, Sheldon Adelson, Robert Kraft, Giuliani (whose office prosecuted him), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and, naturally, Maria Bartiromo.
As The New York Times dryly noted on Tuesday afternoon, in a piece commenting on everyone who received a reprieve, “DeBartolo was among the hosts of a pre-inauguration party in 2017 that honored people close to Trump at the time, including Michael Cohen”.
Suffice to say Cohen will not be getting a pardon.
Despite Blagojevich’s appearance on “The Apprentice”, Trump said this of the former Governor on Tuesday: “I don’t know him. [But] he seems like a very nice person”.