Back when President Donald Trump was running against “Crooked” Hillary Clinton he always got big cheers at the rally by promising to “drain the swamp. He’d openly boasted about buying off politicians to benefit his businesses, but people bought the argument that made him an expert on fixing the problem of political corruption.
So far that hasn’t worked out well, with Trump using his office to benefit his still wholly-owned business in various ways, and his reputation as a corruption fighter suffered further on Tuesday when he issued pardons to or commuted the sentences of 11 notorious swamp creatures.
Trump gave a get-out-of-jail-free card to former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was about halfway into a 14-year sentence for several several corruption convictions. The Federal Bureau of Investigation had him on wire-tapped tape profanely stating his intention to sell the Senate seat President Barack Obama had vacated by going to the White House, and he was also caught trying to shake down a children’s cancer hospital for a $50,000 campaign donation in exchange for signing a bill that would have spent millions on pediatric care.
That’s brazenly corrupt abuse of office even by Illinois standards, but Trump said the 14-year sentence “was a tremendously powerful, ridiculous sentence in my opinion and in the opinion of many others.” We’re not sure who the many others are, but they apparently include Blagojevich’s wife, whose teary pleas on her husband behalf were frequently aired on Fox News. Blagojevich had also been a contestant on Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” reality show during his trial, but Trump insists he hardly knows the guy, so surely that as nothing to do with it.
A pardon was also handed to Michael Milken, the “Junk Bond King” who pleaded guilty in 1990 to six felony counts including securities fraud, mail fraud and filing a fraudulent tax return. Milken was considered the villainous exemplar of the “decade of greed” in the ’80s, and was the inspiration for the Gordon Gekko character in the movie “Wall Street” who had the oft-quoted line that “greed is good,” but times have changed. Among those advocating for Milken’s pardon were Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, the wife of Senate majority leader and loyal Trump ally Mitch McConnell, deep-pocketed political donor Sheldon Adelson, and House minority leader Kevin McCarthy.
Trump was also merciful to former New York City police chief Bernard Kerik, who served during the mayoralty of Trump lawyer Rudy Guiliani, and was convicted of tax fraud while a partner in Guiliani’s security business, and is now a regular at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. Edward DeBartolo Jr., a former owner of the National Football League franchise San Francisco ’49ers who pleaded guilty charge of conspiring with the corrupt and eventually convicted Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards, was forgiven as well.
The rest of the beneficiaries of Trump’s mercy are people we’ve never previously heard of, but they all seem to have some connection to Trump or his cronies. Trump has also commuted the sentence of an aging black woman who was convicted of a non-violent drug offense, but that was for laundering the money she’d earned from running a multi-million-dollar crack cocaine ring that surely committed some violent offense or other, and she was distantly related to the husband of reality show star Kim Kardashian, who vouched for her character in a White House meeting with Trump.
Which leads many people to conclude that the fewer degrees of separation between a convict and Trump increases the convict’s chances of a presidential pardon. Two of Trump’s erstwhile associates, national security advisor Michael Flynn and longtime friend and advisor Roger Stone, are both awaiting sentencing following their convictions of violating federal law, and former campaign manager Paul Manafort is currently in prison, and all three are probably heartened by Tuesday’s news. In the opinion of many people, including ourselves, this looks awfully swampy.
More frightening is the possibility that Trump doesn’t see anything wrong about what Blagojevich or Milken or Kerik or DeBartolo did. He’d still like to lock up “Crooked” Hillary Clinton for whatever she did, which we vaguely recall had something to do with using non-governmental e-mails and cell phones the same way Trump and his daughter and White House advisor have done, and the rally crowds are chanting “Lock her up” at every mention of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s name, for reasons no one can explain. Abuses of power and paying or taking brides or cheating on tax returns or lying one’s way out of a jam are another matter, as far as Trump is concerned.
The same fervent fans who chanted “Drain the swamp” at the rallies won’t mind. Everyone does it, they’ll tell you.
— Bud Norman</div<