President Donald Trump has only held office for a year and a half, and already he’s made some pretty controversial pardons. Between Scooter Libby – who unmasked a CIA secret agent – and Sheriff Joe Arpaio – who specialized in racial profiling and other anti-immigration attacks on people of color in Arizona, these pardons show that the president loves nothing more than rewarding his most extreme supporters and their allies.
But when it comes to his latest pardon, President Trump is signaling an even more dangerous mindset: absolutely no respect for federal election law. And with the Russia investigation continuing, the midterms just around the corner and a reelection campaign in the near future, that perspective poses a major threat to the American democratic ideal.
Last week, President Trump announced that he would pardon conservative pundit and felon Dinesh D’Souza, a vocal far-right commentator. D’Souza is a longtime warrior against progressive politics, heavily criticizing President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as well as peddling in conspiracy theories about Obama being “unAmerican” and blaming liberals for the September 11 attacks.
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D’Souza also became directly involved in one GOP campaign, an action that eventually resulted in his eventual conviction on campaign finance violations.
The New York Times reports:
In 2014, Mr. D’Souza was accused of using straw donors to donate $20,000 to a Republican Senate candidate in New York, exceeding the personal limit of $5,000. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a $30,000 fine and five years of probation, including eight months living under supervision in a ‘community confinement center’ in San Diego.
Prosecutors said he enlisted two people to donate $10,000 apiece on behalf of themselves and their spouses to Wendy E. Long, a friend from Dartmouth who lost in a landslide to Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, a Democrat. He then reimbursed the donors in cash.
D’Souza escaped any actual jail time, but he still felt aggressively attacked by the charges, claiming that he was only targeted because of his conservative background. Now he has an ally in this assertion, and the president has agreed to wipe his slate clean.
“Will be giving a Full Pardon to Dinesh D’Souza today. He was treated very unfairly by our government!” President Trump tweeted on May 31 to the applause of conservatives and the jeers of liberals across the country.
Legal analysts, though, assert that D’Souza’s conviction was clearly not politically motivated — regardless of the pundit’s claims.
Ken White, a former federal prosecutor, wrote for NBC Think:
D’Souza tried, and the federal judge hearing his case rejected his arguments. The judge pointed out that the government demonstrated that it had prosecuted both Republican and Democratic straw buyers, and that D’Souza had presented no evidence of discriminatory intent and no evidence that similar people with different politics were not prosecuted. D’Souza therefore couldn’t even make enough of a showing to get discovery into his assertion of selective prosecution, let alone a dismissal.
The lack of evidence doesn’t appear to have swayed President Trump, who — according to D’Souza — called the pundit to inform him that he “got screwed” and would receive a full pardon. But it’s the president’s reason for the pardon that should have all of America alarmed.
“President Trump said I did something that would normally get a slap on the wrist and a fine, but instead the previous administration went after me with the full force of its powers,” D’Souza wrote for Fox News. “President Trump termed my case as an injustice, one that he was in a position to correct.”
President Trump clearly and unequivocally saw a gross and premeditated violation of federal campaign finance law as no big deal. He believes that the true “injustice” is being punished for breaking the law in the first place. Campaign finance rules, in other words, should not have an actual legal weight — and in the cases where they are ignored and broken, you should simply be able to buy your way out of any repercussions.
It’s a horrifying message, especially as what are expected to be the most expensive midterms in history approach. This troubling line of thinking comes from a president who is currently under investigation for illegal campaign coordination with foreign powers — and whose personal lawyer is believed to have spend massive amounts in undeclared donations for hush money to keep derogatory stories out of the press.
President Donald Trump — and the GOP in general — firmly believe that campaign finance laws shouldn’t exist. As long as they do exist, Republicans believe that they should be allowed to buy their way free of those rules simply because they can. And now they know that if they’re convicted, even those charges can eventually be wiped clean.
In just one pardon, President Donald Trump has essentially erased any weight that the FEC held — and the midterms are just six months away.