Donald Trump has granted a last-minute pardon to his former political adviser, Steve Bannon, as he pardoned or commuted the sentences of 143 of his allies or associates, hours before leaving the White House.
The last-minute clemency follows separate waves of pardons over the past month for Trump associates convicted in the FBI's Russia investigation as well as for the father of his son-in-law.
Mr Bannon's pardon was especially notable given that the prosecution was still in its early stages and any trial was months away.
Mr Bannon, a former White House chief strategist and Mr Trump’s top campaign aide, was charged with swindling donors in a private attempt to build a wall along the US-Mexico border.
Elliott Broidy, a former Republican fundraiser who pleaded guilty in October to a charge that he illegally lobbied the president to drop an investigation into a Malaysian embezzlement scandal, was pardoned, as was former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who was serving a 28-year prison term on corruption charges.
Rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black, who were prosecuted on federal weapons offences, were granted clemency as well.
But Julian Assange missed out, as did Joe Exotic.
Assange's supporters had hoped Mr Trump would pardon the Wikileaks founder, however he did not make the list. And the Tiger King star’s lawyers had said they had a limosuine waiting outside his prison in Texas, in expectation of his release.
Ken Kurson, a friend and ally of the Trump family, was one of the recipients of the president’s last minute pardons. Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn had charged Mr Kurson with sending a string of threatening and stalking messages to people, including a friend he blamed for the breakdown of his marriage.
Mr Trump, however, did not pardon himself, members of his family or his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, a senior administration official told Reuters.
White House officials had reportedly advised Mr Trump against a pardon for himself or his family because “it might look like they are guilty of crimes,” Reuters quoted a source familiar with the situation as saying.
“President Donald J Trump granted pardons to 73 individuals and commuted the sentences of an additional 70 individuals,” said a statement from the White House press secretary on Wednesday.
Earlier, a CNN report stated that Trump “told people that after much deliberation,” he has decided to pardon Mr Bannon as “one of his final acts in office.” Mr Trump had “flip-flopped repeatedly”as he mulled his final pardons, the Associated Press reported.
“Steve Bannon is getting a pardon from Trump after defrauding Trump’s own supporters into paying for a wall that Trump promised Mexico would pay for. And if that all sounds crazy, that’s because it is. Thank God we have only 12 more hours of this den of thieves,” tweeted representative Adam Schiff, who is also the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
Mr Bannon, the former executive chairman of right-wing media outlet Breitbart News, was among four men indicted by a New York federal grand jury last year.
They face charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering for their roles in the non-profit group “We Build the Wall.”
Mr Bannon has pleaded not guilty to the charges and faces trial in May.
Mr Trump fired Mr Bannon from his White House job in 2017, but in recent months they have reportedly talked about ways to overturn the election defeat to Mr Biden.
After he fired Mr Bannon, Mr Trump said his former advisor had “lost his mind."
In 2018, Mr Trump’s lawyers had threatened legal action against Mr Bannon after accusing him of violating a non-disclosure clause by speaking about his experience during the Trump election campaign to author Michael Wolff.
Earlier this month, Assange won his fight to avoid extradition to the United States but was denied bail under strict conditions for fear he could abscond and deny prosecutors the chance to appeal.
Assange is wanted to face an 18-count indictment, alleging a plot to hack computers and a conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defence information.
The US government has formally lodged an appeal against the decision to block Mr Assange's extradition.
Exotic is currently serving a 22-year sentence in Fort Worth, Texas, after being convicted in 2019 of trying to hire a hitman to kill his rival Carol Baskin, as well as numerous animal abuse charges.
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