President Trump on Thursday tweeted that he planned to pardon conservative filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza. Later in the day, the president told reporters that he was considering extending the pardon to Martha Stewart, and maybe even commuting the prison sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
D’Souza pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws in 2014, while Blagojevich was imprisoned for attempting to trade former President Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat for money. Stewart served five months in federal prison for insider trading in the early 2000s.
Coming off the heels of a White House meeting with Kim Kardashian on the subject of prison reform, Trump’s announcements polarized Americans; Trumpians eagerly touted D’Souza’s pardon as a win for populism, while those in media decried the politicization of the president’s legal instruments.
Representatives on both sides, however, agreed on one point: That such political pardons might eventually extend to those ensnared in the Russia investigation.
“I don’t doubt that Trump potentially might pardon people who are under investigation, justifiably. I think Michael Flynn pretty clearly deserves to be pardoned,” Will Chamberlain, an attorney who now spearheads MAGA Meetups, told Observer.
“Why might that message be relevant, you ask?” said CNN’s Chris Cillizza. “Ask Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort.”
Mike Flynn Jr., the son of Trump’s former national security advisor now cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, wrote over Twitter that D’Souza “deserves” pardoning, drawing a veiled comparison between Obama’s Justice Department and attacks made on Trump.
In addition to D’Souza, Blagojevich and Stewart, Trump has pardoned such controversial conservatives as Joe Arpaio (who appeared at Trump’s rallies even after the Justice Department investigated him for racial profiling) and Scooter Libby (Vice President Dick Cheney’s former aide who was indicted by a federal grand jury for leaking the identity of a CIA officer). Within the MAGA movement, D’Souza, Libby and Arpaio are often viewed as martyrs against a “Deep State” personified by former Obama appointees, a narrative Trump’s political allies have used to discredit federal institutions investigating his campaign’s ties to Russia.
Although White House Principle Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah denied that Trump’s decision to pardon D’Souza was motivated by the Russia investigation, Trump supporters noted how the president rewards loyalty.
“Trump pardons people who are prominent supporters of him,” explained Chamberlain. “Politics is a team sport and Trump has his supporters’ backs.”
“It’s a ‘fuck you’ to Obama,” New Right figure Mike Cernovich told Observer.