The New Yorker
- Jeffrey Toobin
Why Trump Pardoned Dinesh D’Souza—and May Pardon Martha Stewart
It’s pardon month in the White House edition of “The Apprentice.” Jack Johnson got one. Dinesh D’Souza’s getting one. So might Martha Stewart, and Rod Blagojevich could see his sentence commuted. The case of Alice Marie Johnson might be the season-ending cliffhanger: Will this great-grandmother be freed from a life sentence thanks to the Oval Office advocacy of Kim Kardashian?
The justifications for these actions range from valid (Jack and Alice Johnson, no apparent relation) to cynical (D’Souza, Stewart, and Blago), but they serve mostly to illustrate the transactional nature of Donald Trump’s Presidency. He has no ideology except self-interest. He doesn’t play politics; he plays the angles.
Consider Stewart’s case. In 2004, she was convicted of making false statements and related charges in connection with an insider-trading scandal. (She was, by the way, guilty.) She served five months in prison, paid a fine, and in subsequent years has gone back to running a media empire. She also hosted a spinoff of the “Apprentice” franchise, which bombed, but, as far as we can tell, Trump has no axe to grind with her now. Still, the relevant point about Stewart is that her prosecution was James Comey’s most high-profile accomplishment during his tenure as United States Attorney, in Manhattan. Pardoning Stewart is a way of diminishing Comey, who is among Trump’s most reviled enemies. Since Stewart has long been out of prison, the pardon will have little practical significance for her, but that’s not the point. Punishing Comey is. (Springing Blago, the former Illinois governor who was convicted on public corruption charges, in 2011, and is serving a fourteen-year sentence, offers similar value for Trump. The governor was prosecuted by the former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who also brought a perjury case against Scooter Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice-President Dick Cheney, whom Trump pardoned earlier this year. And Fitzgerald today is one of the lawyers representing Comey, so undoing Fitzgerald’s work operates as more score-settling for the President.) ...
As for D’Souza’s pardon, that seems to be little more than a straight payoff to the right-wing base, which has been the focus of Trump’s attentions and affections throughout his Presidency. D’Souza has long enjoyed a large following as an extreme ideologue and conspiracist; he is infamous for making lunatic accusations against the Clintons and Barack Obama, and for pushing anti-Semitic tropes about the financier and philanthropist George Soros. (In a telling bit of symmetry, Roseanne Barr was also pushing the outrageous Soros allegations.) D’Souza was charged in Manhattan federal court with campaign-finance violations, for using straw donors to make campaign contributions to a Republican candidate,in 2014. Notwithstanding D’Souza’s and now Trump’s claims, this was no frivolous prosecution. Indeed, D’Souza chose to plead guilty rather than go to trial. He was sentenced to eight months in a halfway house and paid a fine. Still, Trump’s pardon allows D’Souza to wallow in his martyrdom at the hands of Obama’s prosecutors—the former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whom Trump fired, brought the case—and the President will reap the credit from D’Souza’s admirers.
For this President, everything is personal. This is why, even more than with most Presidents, we should know the details of his and his family’s financial dealings. This is where his personal interests would be most clearly on display. (How, for example, is Trump’s sudden interest in saving the ZTE conglomerate in China related to the decision by the Chinese government to award Ivanka Trump several valuable trademarks?) Who are Trump’s real business partners? How and where have his business ventures been financed? And what, of course, would we learn if we could see his tax returns? These pardon cases show that the President serves his friends and punishes his enemies—and we need to know, more than ever, who is who.
Democracy is a garden that has to be tended. -Barack Obama