In recent days, leading House Democrats have signaled that they, in the words of the New York Times, would like to take a “sharp pivot” away from talking about the Trump administration’s corruption. (The idea is to put more attention on the party’s proposals related to health care and the economy.) The Trump administration, however, appears to have other plans, announcing Tuesday that the president has issued pardons and sentence commutations to a number of convicted white-collar criminals he knows personally or who are connected to him through social and professional acquaintances. Among the individuals who have been formally forgiven:
• Eddie DeBartolo Jr., the former owner of the San Francisco 49ers, who was convicted of “failing to report a felony” in 1998 after he paid a $400,000 bribe (in cash, using $100 bills) for a casino license. According to the White House’s statement, the individuals who lobbied for DeBartolo to be pardoned included New England Patriots owner and frequent Mar-a-Lago guest Robert Kraft.
• Michael Milken, a bond trader who was convicted in 1990 of securities and tax fraud and who paid $1.1 billion in fines and settlements related to the “junk bond”–related collapse of his investment bank. Advocates for Milken’s pardon included Kraft, Rudy Giuliani, and Trump inaugural fund chairman Tom Barrack.
• Rod Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois, who was convicted of soliciting bribes from candidates to replace Barack Obama in the Senate after Obama was elected president. Blagojevich later appeared on The Celebrity Apprentice.
• Bernard Kerik, the former commissioner of the New York Police Department, who was convicted in 2009 of lying to federal investigators and committing tax fraud related to apartment renovations that a construction company performed for him for free in exchange for a favor involving city licensing. (Kerik is also known for having conducted an extramarital affair in a downtown New York City apartment that had initially been made available by its owner in September 2001 to workers at the World Trade Center site. A New York Times article from 2004 says Kerik paid rent on the apartment after he began using it personally, but that the amount he paid “was not clear.”) Trump associates who pushed for Kerik’s pardon include Giuliani, Geraldo Rivera, and ex–Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher, who himself was the recent beneficiary of Trump intervention in a disciplinary case.
Trump has previously pardoned Conrad Black, a right-wing media executive who was convicted of fraud and obstruction of justice; Joe Arpaio, a right-wing Arizona sheriff who was convicted of contempt of court; and Dinesh D’Souza, a right-wing pundit who was convicted of making illegal campaign donations.
As Twitter politics guys ranging from Will Stancil to Brian Beutler to me have pointed out, the House Democrats’ decision to de-emphasize oversight activities is a choice not to take advantage, electorally, of the consensus view among Democratic (and independent!) voters that Trump is dishonest and corrupt, and that this dishonesty and corruption is bad. As Tuesday’s events illustrate, it could also mean that Trump will accelerate the already high pace at which he does corrupt things over the course of the rest of his term.