Amid fallout from supporter Roseanne Barr’s bigoted tweets, President Donald Trump announced on Thursday that he pardoned Dinesh D’Souza, a conservative commentator, author and filmmaker known for spreading false conspiracy theories about everyone from the Obamas to Adolph Hitler.
And in what some see as a signal to his pals under indictment or investigation in the Russia investigation and other criminal probes, Trump told reporters he is also considering pardoning former fellow Apprentice host Martha Stewart, who served time for insider trading, and commuting the prison sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, whom Trump once fired on The Celebrity Apprentice.
D’Souza pleaded guilty to a felony campaign finance violation in 2014, but on Thursday morning Trump tweeted: “Will be giving a Full Pardon to Dinesh D’Souza today. He was treated very unfairly by our government!”
An official White House statement said that in the president’s opinion, D’Souza was a “a victim of selective prosecution for violations of campaign finance laws,” and that he is “fully worthy of this pardon” after completing “community service by teaching English to citizens and immigrants seeking citizenship.”
But D’Souza has a history of making wild and inaccurate claims.
In just the last year, he suggested that last year’s Charlottesville deadly hate rally run by white supremacists was actually staged by liberals (it wasn’t), defended Hitler by calling him “NOT anti gay” (despite the Hitler regime sending tens of thousands of people to concentration camps because they were gay), shared a meme calling Obama a “gay Muslim” and suggested Michelle Obama is a man.
He also started a conspiracy theory that the media was covering up Las Vegas mass murderer Stephen Paddock’s background as an anti-Trump activist, which he wasn’t. And in February, he mocked the survivors of the mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida high school.
Aboard Air Force One on Thursday, Trump told reporters that he’s considering pardoning Stewart, who served time in federal prison following her conviction in 2004 of obstructing justice and lying to investigators about a conspicuously-timed stock sale.
“I think to a certain extent Martha Stewart was harshly and unfairly treated,” Trump said. “And she used to be my biggest fan in the world … before I became a politician. But that’s okay, I don’t view it that way.”
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Trump also told reporters that he believes Blagojevich — who was removed from office and convicted of numerous corruption charges — was just “being stupid.”
“What he did does not justify 18 years in a jail,” Trump said of the 14-year sentence. “If you read his statement, it was a foolish statement, there was a lot of bravado. But … plenty of other politicians have said a lot worse. And … he shouldn’t have been put in jail.”
Trump had Blagojevich on as a Celebrity Apprentice contestant before the former governor’s conviction in 2010 on corruption charges related to the selling of President Barack Obama’s former Senate seat. Stewart hosted a spinoff of The Apprentice in 2005.
Critics have taken Twitter to say Trump’s pardon process, which has taken place outside traditional Justice Department channels, is a means to undermine the Russia investigation. Some claim he’s sending a message to former associates who may feel pressure to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller that he will protect them.
California Congressman Adam Schiff, a Democrat and former prosecutor, tweeted that Trump’s pardon of D’Souza was a continuing “abuse of power” and that the campaign finance laws D’Souza pleaded guilty to breaking were “not unlike concealment of Stormy Daniels payment. @POTUS says unfair. Why, because he was caught? Trying to send a message to Michael Cohen?”
Cohen is under criminal investigation, and his home, hotel and office were raided by the FBI. Campaign finance experts have told PEOPLE that Cohen’s payment to Daniels and Trump’s repayment of the money appears to have broken campaign finance laws.
Critics also say the pardons are slap in the face to the men who prosecuted the cases.
Trump fired Preet Bharaha, who prosecuted D’Souza, and former FBI director James Comey, who prosecuted Stewart. Both are outspoken Trump critics. Blagojevich’s case was prosecuted by then-U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who has close ties to Comey.
Special counsel Robert Mueller is looking into Comey’s firing as part of his probe into whether Trump attempted to obstruct the FBI’s investigation into possible links between his campaign and Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.
Trump’s first pardon, in August, was for Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, an immigration hardliner known for promoting the lie that Trump began that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt for violating a judge’s order that he could not detain immigrants simply because they lacked legal status.