President Donald Trump on Tuesday announced a wave of sentence commutations and pardons, including for disgraced financier Michael Milken, who was convicted in 1990 of securities fraud.
As part of his clemency blitz, Trump also commuted the sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was convicted of federal corruption charges, including for an attempt to sell the U.S. Senate seat previously held by then-President Barack Obama.
Former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik was one of the seven people granted presidential pardons on Tuesday. He pleaded guilty in 2009 to felony tax fraud and lying to the government.
Former San Francisco 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo Jr., who was convicted in a gambling fraud scandal in 1998, was also pardoned. Trump also granted clemency to Ariel Friedler, Paul Pogue, David Safavian, Angela Stanton, Tynice Nichole Hall, Crystal Munoz and Judith Negron.
“We have commuted the sentence of Rod Blagojevich,” Trump told reporters on the tarmac at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. “I don’t know him very well. I’ve met him a couple times. He was on for a short while on ‘The Apprentice’ years ago. He seemed like a very nice person. Don’t know him, but he served eight years in jail. It was a long time to go.”
Blagojevich served as the state’s Democratic governor from 2003 to 2009 before he was given a 14-year prison sentence in 2012. Blagojevich was convicted a year earlier on 18 felony corruption charges related to his illegal use of campaign finances and attempts to exchange bribes for political favors.
The most brazen of his crimes, however, was his attempt to sell the U.S. Senate seat held by Obama when he was elected president. In a 2008 phone conversation wiretapped by the FBI, Blagojevich joked about selling the seat to Chicago Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
“How funny would it be sending Rev. Wright there?” Blagojevich said in the call. “I bet you he’d take it. Wouldn’t that be fucking funny?”
“Right there on the Senate floor, it wouldn’t be God Bless America it would be God Damn America!” Blagojevich added, laughing.
As the scale of his corruption became apparent, the Illinois House of Representatives voted in January 2009 to impeach Blagojevich. The bipartisan measure passed 117-1. Later that month, the Illinois Senate voted unanimously, 59-0, to remove the governor and bar him from ever holding political office in the state again.
In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court denied for a second time a request from the disgraced ex-governor to appeal the corruption charge convictions.
Last August, the president told reporters he thought Blagojevich was treated “unbelievably unfairly.”
“Eighteen years is, I think, really unfair,” Trump said of Blagojevich’s sentence (Blagojevich was sentenced to 14 years, not 18). Trump added that Blagojevich was convicted “for being stupid and saying things that every politician, you know that many other politicians say.”
“I am seriously thinking about ― not pardoning ― but I am seriously thinking of a curtailment of Blagojevich,” Trump added.
Trump and Blagojevich previously worked together on “The Celebrity Apprentice” in 2010, which the future president was hosting at the time.
Milken was known as the “junk bond king” in the 1980s. He was indicted in 1989 on 98 counts of racketeering and fraud. He pleaded guilty to fraudulent activities involving securities trading. By taking the plea bargain, Milken likely avoided a harsher prison sentence had he been convicted on the racketeering and insider trading charges.
He was fined $600 million and sentenced to 10 years in prison, of which he ended up serving 22 months.
Trump on Tuesday praised Milken for doing “an incredible job for the world” through his funding of cancer research. Milken was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1993 and, upon his release from prison that same year, founded the Prostate Cancer Foundation. His cancer is currently in remission.
“He suffered greatly,” the president said of Milken. “He paid a big price ― paid a very tough price.”
Trump has shown an affinity for his pardon powers in the past, commuting the sentence of Alice Johnson, who was serving a lifetime sentence for a nonviolent drug offense, after reality star Kim Kardashian West requested he do so in 2018.
In November, Trump cleared Navy SEAL Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher — who was accused of committing several war crimes, including posing with the body of a dead teenage Islamic State captive he had just killed with a hunting knife — of all wrongdoing and gave him a promotion. Navy SEALs who testified against Gallagher called him “evil,” with one soldier saying Gallagher was “perfectly OK with killing anybody.”
More recently, Trump alluded to pardoning his longtime political ally Roger Stone, who was convicted in November of lying to Congress and witness intimidation over his connection with Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
In the midst of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, which examined potential obstruction of justice committed by the president, Trump even claimed that he could pardon himself.
“As has been stated by numerous legal scholars, I have the absolute right to PARDON myself, but why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong?” he tweeted in 2018.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Milken was convicted of racketeering. He was charged with 98 counts that included racketeering, but pleaded guilty to six lesser charges related to fraud.