Trump pardons spark fresh outrage
US President Donald Trump issued new pardons Wednesday for allies including the father of his son-in-law Jared Kushner and two confidants caught up in the probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election that brought him to power.
Among those pardoned were Charles Kushner, who pleaded guilty to charges including tax evasion and witness tampering in 2004, as well as former campaign manager Paul Manafort and longtime adviser Roger Stone.
The trio were among 26 people pardoned and three who had all or part of their sentences commuted by Trump on Wednesday.
They come only a day after Trump pardoned another 15 people and commuted sentences for five, including corrupt Republican congressmen and security guards convicted of killing 14 civilians in a 2007 Baghdad massacre.
Trump's pardon of Manafort, who was at the heart of the investigation by special prosecutor Robert Mueller into allegations of Russian interference in the election four years ago, triggered fury that Trump was trying to erase the probe he has always described as a "witch hunt."
Democratic congressman Adam Schiff, who heads the House intelligence committee, said in a tweet that "during the Mueller investigation, Trump's lawyer floated a pardon to Manafort. Manafort withdrew his cooperation with prosecutors, lied, was convicted and then Trump praised him for not 'ratting.' Trump's pardon now completes the corrupt scheme."
Manafort himself took to Twitter, saying, "You truly did 'Make America Great Again.' God Bless you & your family. I wish you a Merry Christmas & many good wishes for the coming years."
David Axelrod, a political commentator and former aide to president Barack Obama, said of the move, "Everyone saw this raw sewage dump of pardons and commutations for @realDonaldTrump apparatchiks and loyalists coming ... Yet the spectacle is still appalling."
Republican Senator Ben Sasse, who has publicly spoken out against Trump, said simply, "This is rotten to the core."
Earlier in the day, Iraqis had expressed outrage and sadness after Trump delivered pardons for the four Blackwater security contractors who were convicted of murder and manslaughter six years ago for the Nisur Square massacre.
The four, all former US servicemen, opened fire unprovoked on the crowded square in 2007, leaving at least 14 civilians dead -- though Iraqi authorities put the toll as high as 17 -- while wounding dozens more and deeply souring US-Iraqi relations.
- 'Utter outrage' -
"I knew we'd never get justice," Fares Saadi, the Iraqi police officer who led the investigations, told AFP.
Retired US general Mark Hertling, who served in Iraq, called the Blackwater pardon "egregious and disgusting."
"This was a craven war crime that resulted in the death of 17 Iraqi civilians. Shame on you Mr President," Hertling tweeted, using the higher death toll.
Trump had also extended pardons to two more minor figures in the 2016 Russia election meddling investigation, and granted clemency to three former Republican lawmakers that watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington called "three of the most corrupt members of Congress in recent history."
All five have been vocal supporters of Trump.
Trump also stunned prosecutors in Florida Tuesday when he commuted the prison sentence of Philip Esformes, a health care tycoon sentenced in 2019 to 20 years in prison for bilking the federal Medicare program of $44 million, the largest-ever Medicare fraud case.
While Esformes had no evident links to Trump, he was backed by several influential former Republican attorneys general and prosecutors who have supported the president.
- More pardons ahead -
Trump is believed to be weighing other pardons including members of his family, his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and potentially himself, to protect from potential litigation after he steps down on January 20.
That could spark even greater uproar, though would likely be difficult to reverse.
Trump is also being pressed by libertarian and civil rights groups to pardon three people involved in leaks of national security information -- WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, and another ex-NSA employee Reality Winner.
Others known to have requested pardons include former US soldier Robert Bale, convicted of murdering 16 Afghan civilians in 2012, and Joseph Maldonado-Passage, better known as Joe Exotic, the star of the hit Netflix documentary "Tiger King", convicted of trying to hire a man to murder a rival.