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Republican blasts Trump’s decision to issue 20 pardons as a ‘grift’

A Republican lawmaker has blasted Donald Trump for attempting a ‘grift’ after the White House announced a wave of new presidential pardons on Tuesday night that included several of the president’s allies and people linked to his administration.

Republican Rep. Denver Riggleman of Virginia told CNN there is a ‘grift that’s going on’, and that the president is surrounding himself with people who are ‘making a lot of money’ with his pardon list.

He referenced the full pardon granted to former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos who pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to the FBI as part of the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

While stating at his sentencing hearing that he had made a ‘terrible mistake’, since his release from prison, Papadopoulos has claimed that he was targeted as part of an anti-Trump agenda.

He continued those claims on Tuesday night as he thanked the president.

‘Thank you, Mr. President!!! This means the world to me and my family!’ he wrote on Twitter.

‘I lost friends, business associates and even family over the last years. Had my reputation tore up for a while with fake stories and nonsense.’

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Republican Rep. Denver Riggleman of Virginia told CNN there is a ‘grift that’s going on’ with the choices he made for his pre-Christmas pardons announced on Tuesday night

George Papadopoulos, a former campaign aide, pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to FBI agents about contact with people with alleged ties to Russian officials. He recieved a full pardon

George Papadopoulos, a former campaign aide, pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to FBI agents about contact with people with alleged ties to Russian officials. He recieved a full pardon

Former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos thanked the president

Former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos thanked the president

He also claimed that his reputation had been destroyed with 'fake stories'

He also claimed that his reputation had been destroyed with ‘fake stories’

Among the others on Trump’s Tuesday pardon list were three corrupt Republican lawmakers who are allies of Trump; four security agents contracted by the US government who were convicted of killing Iraqi civilians in 2007; and Alfonso Costa, a dentist who pleaded guilty to health care fraud related to false billing, who is also a close friend and business partner of Ben Carson.

Yet it was Papadopoulos’ pardon that particularly troubled Riggleman.

‘I’m not shocked. I think it’s wrong but I’m not shocked about it. I know some of this individuals – like Duncan, like Chris – I know what they did and for them to be pardoned for some of those things, I’m sure they’re happy tonight but for our justice system, I think we should be a little bit shocked,’ he told CNN, referencing Republican lawmakers Duncan Hunter and Chris Collins who both received a pardon. 

‘When I look at George Papadopoulos … this guy was hired off LinkedIn, with only a three of four-day vetting period. He was not there with any kind of bona fides to do the job that he had to do, he was there for the grift.

‘I think what we’re looking at, what he’s surrounding himself with is, they’re making a lot of money. There’s a grift going on here and that’s the thing that really worries me. Not only when you see the pardons, but you see the grift that’s going on and the type of behavior that’s happening,’ Riggleman continued.

‘I think all of this comes together. When you talk about conspiracy theories, you also talk about a sickness and it seems like that’s overtaken the Trump White House right now.’

The White House revealed on Tuesday that Trump, pictured, has granted full pardons to 15 people and commuted all or part of the sentences of five others

The White House revealed on Tuesday that Trump, pictured, has granted full pardons to 15 people and commuted all or part of the sentences of five others

Many Republicans have remained quiet so far on the pardon announcement after Trump stole the spotlight back once more with his threat to veto the COVID-19 relief bill just minutes after the White House released its statement on the grants of clemancy.

Trump himself also didn’t mention the pardon announcement, instead posting a video to Twitter in which he called the new Covid relief legislation ‘a disgrace’.

While Republicans have commented on Trump’s call to boost checks for Americans to $2,000 and make other modifications to the bill, most have failed to make statements regarding the pardons.

A lone voice was Fred Wellman of the anti-Trump The Lincoln Project who claimed that Fox News had played a role in the president’s choices. 

‘This is who Trump thinks are innocent. Fox News personality Pete Hegseth has been instrumental in all of the war criminal pardons. He is literally mentioned in the pardon,’ he claimed.  

Others who did comment had words of praise. 

‘The President has the right to grant this pardon. The Collins family has paid a price for Chris’ transgressions and justice has been served,’ said Republican Rep. Tom Reed of New York of his former colleague.

Some on social media claimed that conservative media had steered the list

Some on social media claimed that conservative media had steered the list

Rep Tom Reed was a lone voice in welcoming the pardon on Tuesday night

Rep Tom Reed was a lone voice in welcoming the pardon on Tuesday night

New York Congressman Nate McMurray was angered as Chris Collins' pardon

New York Congressman Nate McMurray was angered as Chris Collins’ pardon

Democratic representatives in the state hit back, however, with Rep. Nate McMurray stating that he was drawing up legislation ‘preventing these types of pardons’.

Despite the general Republican silent, Trump’s actions have also been called out by John W. Dean, the former White House Counsel to Richard Nixon known for his role in covering up the Watergate Scandal; and former US Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper.

‘The statement accompanying Trump’s Christmas pardons shows (1) insiders arranged them, (2) they’re all political, and (3) the underlying conduct is mischaracterized most every instance, particularly Mueller’s prosecutions. Undoubtedly, more will follow,’ Dean wrote on Twitter.

‘Duncan Hunter’s pardon is an injustice. He was headed to 11 months in prison. His wife got 8 months home confinement,’ he continued.

‘They used his campaign funds to live the high life. When discovered she confessed and cooperated. He denied. Lied. Blamed her. Now he gets a pass, she a smack!’

John W. Dean, the former White House Counsel to Richard Nixon known for his role in covering up the Watergate Scandal, claimed the pardons were all arranged by insiders

John W. Dean, the former White House Counsel to Richard Nixon known for his role in covering up the Watergate Scandal, claimed the pardons were all arranged by insiders

Yet Dean was most troubled by the decision to pardon the Blackwater security agents as he warned Americans ‘Hang on! It’s not over’.

‘Trump pardoned 4 war criminals,’ he fumed.

‘Men who murdered innocent unarmed people caught up in the Iraq War. Blackwater contract warriors found guilty beyond reasonable doubt in a federal court were given a pass.’

Clapper told CNN ‘I am out of adjectives’ went asked his thoughts on the pardons. 

‘We have proof of where the president’s head really is in all of this and it’s not on national security, not on the pandemic, not of massive Russian cyber espionage, but rather on pleasing the base and reinforcing his grip on the base at large and on Republican political figures specifically. 

‘It’s disturbing.’ 

Margaret Love, who served as pardon attorney under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, agreed that Trump was picking his pardons based on where his support lay.

Democrats were quicker to hit out at Trump's pardons on  Tuesday night

Democrats were quicker to hit out at Trump’s pardons on  Tuesday night

‘It looks as if the president is relying very heavily on recommendations from members of Congress and people he knows personally and not on the Justice Department pardon process that’s served presidents well for 150 years,’ she told Politico.

‘I am optimistic there will be further grants soon that go to ordinary people that applied in the regular order through the established process and have been patiently waiting, sometimes for years.’

Democrats were, of course, quicker to hit out although many were also focused on Trump’s veto threat throughout Tuesday night.

‘Pardoning monstrous criminals will leave a dark mark on the history of presidential pardons,’ tweeted Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar.

Rep. Adam Schiff said the pardons were ‘grotesque’ and ‘morally repugnant’ but that they were also ‘exactly what we expect of Donald Trump’.

‘If you lie to cover up for the President, you get a pardon. If you are a corrupt politician who endorsed Trump, you get a pardon. If you murder civilians while at war, you get a pardon,’ continued. 

‘The power of the pardon is about forgiveness and justice. What the President did tonight is neither,’ added former Democratic presidential candidate and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar.

‘It is corruption. He is trying to burn the house of justice down on his way out the door.’

Among the other pardons were Nicholas Slatten, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard, former contractors at Blackwater Worldwide convicted of killing Iraqi civilians

Among the other pardons were Nicholas Slatten, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard, former contractors at Blackwater Worldwide convicted of killing Iraqi civilians

The president’s niece Mary Trump also voiced her own disgust.

‘These pardons are grotesque. The corrupt, the criminal, murderers of children–that’s who Donald lets off the hook,’ she wrote.

‘We can never forget and never forgive the unspeakable cruelty.’

The White House revealed on Tuesday that Trump has granted full pardons to 15 people, including three former Republican lawmakers, and commuted all or part of the sentences of five others. 

Among the others of the list were two Border Patrol agents convicted in 2006 of shooting and wounding an unarmed undocumented immigrant and then covering it up; and several people convicted of non-violent drug crimes serving lengthy sentences. 

Many of the pardons had been on the recommendation of allies in Congress and the conservative media.   

According to Michael Schmidt of the New York Times, of the 45 pardons that Trump had granted up until today, 40 of the 45 – 88 percent – were either tied to one of his allies, someone who had special access to him, or was tied to something that politically benefited him personally. 

President Donald Trump’s pre-Christmas pardons 

Russia probe liars

George Papadopoulos – Lying to the FBI – Full pardon

Alex van der Zwaan  – Lying to Mueller’s investigators – Full pardon

Blackwater contractors 

Dustin Heard – killing Iraqi civilians – Full pardon 

Evan Liberty – killing Iraqi civilians – Full pardon 

Nicholas Slatten – killing Iraqi civilians -Full pardon

Paul Slough – killing Iraqi civilians – Full pardon

Republican lawmakers

Chris Collins – Conspiring to commit securities fraud and making false statements to the FBI – Full pardon 

Duncan Hunter – Stealing about $150,000 from his campaign funds to pay for a lavish lifestyle – Full pardon 

Steve Stockman – Conspiring to bilk at least $775,000 from conservative foundations that intended the donations for charities – Commuted sentence 

Border control agents

Ignacio Ramos – Assault with a dangerous weapon, lying about the incident –  Full pardon

Jose Compean – Assault with a dangerous weapon, lying about the incident – Full pardon

Others 

Weldon Angelos – Sentenced to 55 years in prison for bringing guns to marijuana deals – Full pardon    

Alfred Lee Crum – Helping his wife´s uncle illegally distill moonshine – Full pardon

Alfonso Costa – Pleaded guilty to a health care fraud charge related to false billing – Full pardon

Philip Esformes – Convicted on 20 criminal counts in what prosecutors described as a $1 billion Medicare fraud scheme, one of the biggest such cases in U.S. history – Full pardon 

Philip Lyman – Served 10 days in prison after he led a protest of about 50 ATV riders in a canyon home to Native American cliff dwellings that officials closed to motorized traffic – Full pardon

Otis Gordon – Convicted of drug possession charge – Full pardon

Crystal Munoz – Received a 20-year prison sentence on a drug conspiracy charge after being convicted for her role in a marijuana smuggling ring – Commuted sentence 

Tynice Nichole Hall – Received an 18-year sentence for allowing her apartment to be used to distribute drugs – Commuted sentence

Judith Negron – Received 35 years at a Florida prison for health care fraud, conspiracy and money laundering – Commuted sentence




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