President Trump went on a pardon spree for the holidays on Tuesday, announcing he would grant pardons to the first two congressmen to endorse him during his first presidential run, two people convicted in Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, and four Blackwater guards convicted in connection with a massacre of Iraqi civilians, among a host of others.
All in all, Trump granted 15 pardons, and commuted five sentences.
The Blackwater guards had been convicted of their role in killing 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians in 2007. One of the Blackwater guards pardoned by Trump, Nicholas Slatten, was convicted of the first-degree murder of an unarmed Iraqi civilian, Ahmed Al Rubia’y, and sentenced to life in prison by the Justice Department in 2019.
George Papadapoulous, a former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser who pled guilty for making false statements to the federal investigators in the Mueller probe, also received a pardon. Alex van der Zwaan, also convicted for making similar lies to the Special Counsel’s office, also got pardoned.
The two former congressmen, Reps. Chris Collins (R-NY) and Duncan Hunter (R-CA), had pled guilty to conspiring to commit securities fraud and misusing campaign funds, respectively.
Collins was sentenced to 26 months after pleading guilty to conspiring to commit securities fraud. The charges stem from an insider trading scandal that began in 2017 when Collins was notified as a board member of Innate Immunotherapeutics that their multiple sclerosis drug had failed a critical drug trial. He then promptly phoned his son and alerted him to the failed drug trial, prompting his son to dump his shares and tip off several others to the failed trial, according to the indictment. The tip-off is said to have triggered a series of stock sell-offs that avoided a total of $768,000 in losses.
While initially trying to fend off the allegations of insider-trading prior to his indictment, Collins is said to have used campaign funds to pay his legal bills. He was re-elected to a fourth term despite the indictment, though he later resigned.
Hunter, the former California congressman, also somehow managed to clinch re-election despite his indictment, but he later resigned from office. He was sentenced to 11 months in March after pleading guilty to stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funds for personal use.
His wife, Margaret Hunter, was also convicted for campaign finance fraud and sentenced to eight months of home detention, but she was not included among the flurry of pardons Trump announced late Tuesday.
A third former congressman, Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX), was also part of Tuesday’s blitz, with President Trump commuting the remaining eight years of his 10-year sentence for fraud and money laundering.
Immediately after news of the pardons broke, President Trump posted a video to Twitter with another surprise announcement: that he didn't want to sign the stimulus bill just approved by Congress. Instead of the $600 checks called for in the bill, Trump instead demanded that Congress give out $2,000 checks. Otherwise, he said, “the next administration” would have to hammer out a relief package.
“Maybe that administration will be me, and we will get it done,” he said.