The push to return Trump to the White House is getting a boost from people he pardoned before leaving.

If not for Donald Trump’s pardon in the final weeks of his presidency, Paul Manafort might still be serving a federal sentence. Instead, Trump’s former campaign manager is a free man…and free to help his former boss return to the White House.

Manafort is in talks to attend this summer’s Republican National Convention, where Trump will officially become the party’s presidential nominee once again, CNN and other outlets reported this week. His early participation would make Manafort the latest pardon recipient under Trump to aid the former president’s political comeback.

It is far from being the first.

Since then, more than a dozen people pardoned for their crimes or whose sentences were commuted by Trump have helped the former president in his quest for a return to power. Some have donated their considerable wealth to the cause. A handful remain on the periphery of his political operation as purveyors of Trump’s false conspiracies about the 2020 election, such as former senior adviser Steve Bannon. Others are outspoken supporters with sizable followings, such as rapper Kodak Black, conservative writer and Trump biographer Conrad Black and Phil Lyman, a former U.S. representative now running for governor of Utah.

One Republican consultant who received a pardon, John Tate, earned more than $70,000 last year as a consultant for Trump’s presidential campaign, federal records show.

It is notable that a presidential candidate would benefit from the people to whom he granted legal pardons, a reality that reflects both the unprecedented nature of Trump’s third bid for the White House and his momentous use of presidential authority while in office. post. As president, Trump exercised clemency powers unlike any of his predecessors, releasing and pardoning former political allies, supporters, celebrities, military figures and others with personal ties to him and his administration.

Jeffrey Crouch, an expert on executive clemency at American University, called it a “perfect storm” of highly unusual circumstances that “raise questions about favoritism and abuse of power that are not normally problems for presidential hopefuls.”

“It’s yet another wrinkle in an already very complicated legal and political landscape for Trump’s 2024 presidential bid,” said Crouch, who wrote “The Presidential Pardon Power.”

The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

As he seeks another four years in office, Trump is once again promising extraordinary use of his pardon powers. He has vowed to free those arrested in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol — potentially hundreds of people serving prison sentences — while making denialism of the bloody riot a central element of his campaign.

Trump’s own candidacy has also resurfaced debates about whether a president could pardon himself. The country may have to confront this question if the former president’s legal problems remain unresolved before Election Day, while Trump faces 44 charges in two federal indictments. However, his pardon protections would not extend to additional state charges he faces in separate indictments filed by prosecutors in Georgia and New York.

From being pardoned to becoming protagonists

The push to return Trump to the White House is getting a boost from people he pardoned before leaving.From left to right: Combined file photos of Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Steve Bannon and Michael Flynn (Seth Wenig / Evan Vucci / Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP Photos)

Voting near his Palm Beach residence on Tuesday, Trump maintained that he had no knowledge of Manafort’s potential role at his nominating convention in Milwaukee, but added: “He was another person who was treated badly and he was a patriot, but We’ll see what happens with that.” The Washington Post first reported on the talks to involve Manafort.

Manafort, a lobbyist who became chairman of Trump’s first presidential campaign, was one of the highest-profile arrests in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. He was convicted in 2018 of defrauding banks and the government, and failing to pay taxes on millions of dollars in income he had earned from Ukrainian political consulting. He subsequently faced an additional penalty for obstruction of justice.

Manafort, originally sentenced to 7.5 years in prison in 2019, was placed under home confinement in April 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. In December, a month after losing re-election, Trump pardoned Manafort.

Trump issued 237 acts of clemency during his four-year term, most after the 2020 election, including 143 during his final hours in office. Although Trump granted fewer pardons than many of its modern predecessorswhen it did, it operated largely outside the Office of the Pardon Attorney, a nonpartisan agency within the Department of Justice that evaluates executive clemency requests. The lack of protocols often led petitioners and his supporters to directly pressure Trump or present his case to his son-in-law Jared Kushner, chief of staff Mark Meadows or White House counsel.

Certainly, past presidents have exercised their considerable clemency authority to benefit their political allies, and not without controversy. President Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon a month after his predecessor resigned in disgrace. President George W. Bush commuted the sentence of Scooter Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, convicted of obstructing a federal investigation. President Bill Clinton granted a pardon to Marc Rich, who fled the country to avoid facing charges of tax evasion. Rich’s ex-wife was a donor to the Clinton presidential library.

But even compared to that history, Trump’s pardons stood out, Crouch said.

“What’s unusual is how many of Trump’s clemency grants went to well-known Republicans, military figures and celebrities rather than average, unknown people,” he said.

In the final months of his presidency, after losing the 2020 election to President Joe Biden, Trump frequently told aides that he had planned to be liberal with his pardons and asked friends and loyalists who they thought he should pardon, according to multiple sources familiar with the topic. conversations told CNN at the time. Trump, at the time, reveled in his ability to grant broad pardons and saw it as an opportunity to generate even more goodwill with those who had been loyal to him during his time in office.

Other staunch Trump allies besides Manafort who received a pardon included: veteran Republican operative Roger Stone, who was also indicted by Mueller and convicted of multiple crimes; Bannon, who had pleaded not guilty to charges of defrauding donors in an online “We Build the Wall” fundraising campaign; and Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser accused of lying to the FBI.

Without Trump’s intervention, the four may have spent the 2024 election cycle serving federal punishments. Stone in 2020 was sentenced to three years in prison and two years of supervised release. Trump pardoned Bannon before going to trial, but the three co-defendants last year received prison sentences of between three and five years. Flynn pleaded guilty but was never sentenced and faced a maximum of five years in prison.

Instead, they are now key players in the effort to re-elect Trump, emerging as some of his most ardent supporters to their sizable audiences. Stone remains an outspoken supporter of his longtime friend, spreading nasty rumors about Trump’s political opponents on social media and hosting a radio show on a conservative New York station that debuted with a Trump appearance. He’s also a Mar-a-Lago regular and went out with Trump’s campaign staff on Super Tuesday to attend the former president’s victory speech.

Bannon’s War Room podcast serves as a wake-up call to Trump supporters to mobilize around the 2024 election. regularly spreading misinformation about the latest. Flynn has toured the country in recent years, appearing at rallies where he too shares election conspiracies. While attending one of the events last year, Trump told Flynn: “We are going to bring you back.”

Dinesh D’Souza, one of Trump’s previous pardons, has also championed the former president’s causes through his own podcast and other media projects. Most notably, D’Souza, who pleaded guilty in 2014 to making illegal contributions to his campaign, created “2000 Mules,” a misleadingly edited and conspiratorial film about the 2020 election that has emboldened Trump’s opposition to voting for mail. Trump hosted a screening of the film at Mar-a-Lago in 2022.

And then there’s disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a former contestant on Trump’s reality show Celebrity Apprentice who was released by the former president in early 2020. Blagojevich recently defended Trump’s antics in court in an interview with Politicocalling the former president “brave” and praising his “brazenness.”

Many of those pardoned by Trump served their sentences long ago and are now helping Trump on the other side of his amnesty. Tate was convicted in 2014 along with two other top leaders of Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign on charges stemming from a bribery plot to secure the endorsement of an Iowa state senator. His sentence, handed down in 2016, included six months home confinement, two years of probation and community service.

CNN contacted Tate through an email address on his consulting firm’s website, but he did not respond.

Trump also effectively cleared the name of Charles Kushner, his son-in-law’s father who in the mid-2000s served prison time after pleading guilty to 16 counts of tax evasion, one count of retaliation against a federal witness: his brother. -politician – and another charge of lying to the Federal Electoral Commission.

Last June, Kushner donated $1 million to Make America Great Again, Inc., one of the largest individual contributions to the pro-Trump super PAC yet. Meanwhile, Trump-pardoned New York real estate executive Alex Adjmi donated $100,000 to MAGA Inc., as did the son and daughter-in-law of Paul Pogue, a former Texas construction executive included in Trump’s last-minute pardons. Trump. Pogue and his wife also contributed $6,600 to a Trump-affiliated campaign committee.

There is already intrigue surrounding the fate of another Trump ally, Peter Navarro. Navarro, a former Trump White House aide, recently reported to federal prison after refusing to comply with a subpoena from the House Select Committee that investigated the Jan. 6 attack.

Trump did not say Tuesday whether he intends to pardon Navarro if he returns to the White House. But his praise for his former assistant echoed the words he used to describe Manafort.

“Good man. He was treated very unfairly,” Trump said. “A great patriot.”

CNN’s Alayna Treene, Kristen Holmes and Fredreka Schouten contributed to this report.

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