Trump says he will pardon Dinesh D'Souza, an Obama critic who violated campaign limits
WASHINGTON — President Trump said Thursday he would pardon conservative commentator Dinesh D'Souza — and said he was considering clemency of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and lifestyle guru Martha Stewart as well.
"Will be giving a Full Pardon to Dinesh D'Souza today. He was treated very unfairly by our government!" Trump tweeted Thursday as he headed to Texas.
"Obama & his stooges tried to extinguish my American dream & destroy my faith in America," D'Souza responded on Twitter. "My heartfelt thanks to those who prayed for me, supported me & reached out on social media to President Trump to pardon me."
D'Souza is serving five years probation for making illegal campaign contributions in the names of others to support the candidacy of Republican New York Senate candidate Wendy Long, who lost to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. Those straw donations allowed him to give $20,000 in illegal contributions to the campaign, exceeding the $5,000 legal limit.
D'Souza pleaded guilty to the charge. And though he argued that he was being selectively prosecuted because of his attacks on President Barack Obama, he later backed off the claim at his sentencing.
"I'm sorry for what I did. I have never said otherwise," he said. "I have never even said I am being selectively prosecuted. I feared that I was being."
The D'Souza pardon would continue Trump's use of clemency power to correct what he perceives as unjust, politically motivated prosecutions. But they also come amid investigations into his own campaign and inner circle — including a probe into whether his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, violated the law when he illegally paid off a porn star who said she had a relationship with Trump.
Rick Hasen, a University of California, Irvine law professor who specializes in election law, said the pardon sends "yet another signal to Michael Cohen and others about the possibility of a Trump pardon — and this one, like potentially Cohen’s case — involves campaign finance violations."
The pardon would mark the fifth full pardon granted by Trump during his presidency — all without going through the formal channels of the Justice Department. And it continues a pattern of politically motivated pardons that include former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former Bush White House aide Scooter Libby.
Trump also pardoned Kristian Saucier, a former Navy submariner whose conviction for mishandling classified information became a conservative cause because of its comparisons to Democratic Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server.
And just last week, Trump gave a rare posthumous pardon to Jack Johnson, the former heavyweight boxing champion convicted in 1913 of racially motivated charges related to his relationship with a white woman.
Like all of those cases, D'Souza did not apply for a pardon with the Office of the Pardon Attorney, the Justice Department unit that conducts investigations of pardon cases and sends recommendations to the president. Under Justice Department rules, D'Souza would be ineligible through that process because he's still on probation.
But the president's constitutional authority to pardon is not bound by those rules, and so Trump has granted politically charged pardons even as he's denied 180 applications from people who have applied through the Justice Department.
"The pardon power itself is incredibly broad, but what informs the use of that power is where the critical question is," said Andrew Wright, a Savannah Law School professor who handled pardon cases while working in the White House counsel's office under Obama.
"He views it as an extension of his situational politics," he said. "The coin of the realm in the Trump administration is flattery and aggressive defense of him on cable television, and if you’re willing to do that, you will get a different set of laws applicable to you."
D'Souza, 57, is an Indian-born author and documentary filmmaker whose work has assailed President Barack Obama, Islam and multiculturalism. His most recent book is The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left.
Previous work includes the book The Roots of Obama's Rage and the film 2016: Obama's America, both of which argue that Obama's politics were formed by the anti-colonial ideology of his Kenyan-born estranged father.
Though he was spared prison time in the campaign finance case, his conviction has put him under court supervision. He's requited to undergo weekly counseling sessions and complete an eight-hour day of community service during every week of his five-year probation. That community service: Teaching English to immigrants.
He also had to receive permission from a judge to leave the country in January for a research project to Nuremberg, Germany — where Nazis were put on trial for war crimes after World War II.
Raj Shah, a deputy White House press secretary, said Thursday that D'Souza had paid his debt — including a $30,000 fine and community service — but declined to address the process that led to the pardon.