Was the Trump White House Selling Pardons?
In a lawsuit filed this year by Noelle Dunphy, a former employee of Giuliani, she asserts that Giuliani was offering people pardons for $2 million, the money to be split 50/50 between him & Trump…
Yesterday’s New York Times has a fascinating article about Trump pardoning a major drug dealer and violent loan shark; it’s titled “A Troubling Trump Pardon and a Link to the Kushners.”
Like with so much reporting on Trump and his possible criminal activity while in the White House, it somehow manages to miss a possible larger picture, in this case the multiple allegations that Trump and Giuliani were selling pardons for $2 million a pop. Although the allegations are well documented, including under oath in a lawsuit, there’s not a single mention of it in the Times article.
The reporters do, however, an excellent job of laying out a case for Jonathan Braun not being pardoned. First, he was a convicted major drug dealer who was less than 2 years into a 10 year prison term. Second, he was also allegedly running a mafia-like illegal loan shark operation, using threats of violence to make sure people paid up. As the Times notes:
“A Staten Islander with a history of violent threats, Mr. Braun had told a rabbi who owed him money: ‘I am going to make you bleed.’”
Third, he was apparently more than willing to use his great wealth to both get out of prison and escape the loan shark charges that the DOJ was preparing against him. Again, from the Times:
“Mr. Braun’s family had told confidants they were willing to spend millions of dollars to get him out of prison.”
In a lawsuit filed earlier this year by Noelle Dunphy, a former employee of Rudy Giuliani, she asserts under oath that Giuliani was offering people pardons for $2 million, the money to be split 50/50 between him and Trump. As the lawsuit itself claims:
“[Giuliani] asked Ms. Dunphy if she knew anyone in need of a pardon, telling her that he was selling pardons for $2 million, which he and President Trump would split.”
The suit further alleges Giuliani told Dunphy that she should avoid the normal channels for handling pardons, including the Office of the Pardon Attorney (yes, there is such a job in the White House), “because those communications would otherwise be subject to Freedom of Information Act requests.”
But Dunphy wasn’t the only one blowing the whistle that Trump was hustling pardons out of the White House for $2 million a pop. As Phillip Bump wrote for The Washington Post earlier this year:
“The allegation that Giuliani was offering pardons for $2 million has been made before. In January 2021, shortly before Trump left office, the New York Times reported that former CIA officer John Kiriakou had been ‘told that Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani could help him secure a pardon for $2 million.’ Kiriakou rejected the request, but an associate worried about the legality of such an offer tipped off the FBI. Kiriakou was not granted a pardon.”
When the Times reported on the pay-for-pardons scheme, Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) wrote to Trump’s acting Attorney General, Jeffrey Rosen, about his concern of criminal behavior in the White House:
“I am writing with grave concern following recent reports that President Trump intends to issue as many as 100 pardons in his final day in office at the same time that his close associates have been selling access to the President to those seeking clemency for thousands of dollars and potentially far more.”
Predictably, Trump’s AG never replied to the letter and, to this day, it doesn’t seem there are any active investigations of pardon-peddling by Trump and Giuliani.
Back to the pardon of Jonathan Braun in yesterday’s Times, they note that when Trump cut Braun free just days before he left the White House, the pardon also blew up a major Department of Justice investigation into allegations of his involvement in violent loan sharking:
“The commutation dealt a substantial blow to an ambitious criminal investigation being led by the Justice Department’s U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan aimed at punishing members of the predatory lending industry who hurt small businesses. Mr. Braun and prosecutors were in negotiations over a cooperation deal in which he would be let out of prison in exchange for flipping on industry insiders and potentially even wearing a wire. But the commutation instantly destroyed the government’s leverage on Mr. Braun.”
The Times also includes a photo of Braun and Trump on a golf course, a meeting that Braun said was a mere “coincidence.”
It should probably surprise nobody that a man who would criminally withhold millions of dollars of aid to Ukraine in an attempt to extort false claims about Joe Biden, who made over $100 million from foreign sources while in the White House (and whose daughter and son-in-law made multiple hundreds of millions while “in service to their country”) would hustle pardons for cash.
The president’s pardon power, after all, is essentially unlimited, and has never been subjected to any constraints by the Supreme Court.
During the Virginia Ratifying Convention’s debate on the adoption of the new US Constitution, on June 18, 1788, delegate George Mason laid out his concern that the pardon power was too broad for the president. What, he asked, if a less than honorable man should ever become president and abuse it to enrich himself?
The president, he argued, “ought not to have the power of pardoning, because he may frequently pardon crimes which were advised by himself. It may happen, at some future day, that he will establish a monarchy, and destroy the republic. If he has the power of granting pardons before indictment, or conviction, may he not stop inquiry and prevent detection? …. This is a weighty objection with me.”
James Madison, “the father of the Constitution” and also a Virginian present at the Convention, asserted his version of Hamilton’s assurance that the Electoral College would prevent a “man of low moral character” from holding the highest office in the land and that, if such a thing were to happen, there was always the remedy of impeachment:
“There is one security in this case to which gentlemen may not have adverted: if the President be connected, in any suspicious manner, with any person, and there be grounds to believe he will shelter him, the House of Representatives can impeach him; they can remove him if found guilty.”
At that time, no political parties had emerged and the idea that an entire party could be corrupted by a demagogue and his billionaire buddies was inconceivable. So, of course, they thought, the “honorable men of the Senate” would vote to convict and remove from office a president caught selling pardons.
Sadly, and obviously, it hasn’t worked out that way. After all, this is the guy who bragged:
“It’s very possible that I could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it.”
It looks like there’s considerable “Trump fatigue” (or actual fear for staffers’ personal safety) in the Justice Department against bringing more investigations and charges against the most corrupt president in all of American history.
But that doesn’t mean that Merrick Garland shouldn’t direct his Department of Justice to look into “PardonGate” or add it to Jack Smith’s portfolio.
After all, given the current crop of GOP presidential wannabes, the chance of the next Republican president being just as corrupt as Trump is far from a remote possibility.