Donald Trump has pardoned former senior adviser Steve Bannon, among scores of others including rappers, financiers and former members of Congress in the final hours of his presidency.
Among the 73 people pardoned was Elliott Broidy, a leading former fundraiser for Trump who has admitted illegally lobbying the US government to drop its inquiry into the Malaysia 1MDB corruption scandal and to deport an exiled Chinese billionaire. Also on the list was Ken Kurson, a friend of Jared Kushner who was charged in October last year with cyberstalking during a heated divorce.
Rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black – who were prosecuted on federal weapons offences – and former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who is serving a 28-year prison term on corruption charges, were also pardoned. A further 70 people had their sentences commuted.
Trump did not attempt to give himself a pre-emptive pardon, and has not pardoned members of his family or Rudy Giuliani, his former personal lawyer with whom he has fallen out. Julian Assange was another figure subject to speculation who was not on the list. Prosecutors and scholars have, however, said a grey area in the constitution means a president may be able to issue “secret” pardons, without notifying Congress or the public.
The New York Times and CNN described the pardoning of Bannon, a former editor of Breitbart as a last-minute pre-emptive move to protect Bannon from his upcoming fraud trial. Bannon faces trial in May following his arrest in August last year on a luxury yacht off the Connecticut coast, accused of siphoning money from We Build the Wall, an online fundraiser for Trump’s contentious border wall with Mexico.
Federal prosecutors allege Bannon used a non-profit he controlled to divert “over $1m from the … online campaign, at least some of which he used to cover hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal expenses”.
Officials said We Build The Wall raised more than $25m. Bannon has denied one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and another of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Watch: President Trump impeachment trial
The news on Bannon and Broidy brought swift outcry. Noah Bookbinder at legal watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said: “Even Nixon didn’t pardon his cronies on the way out. Amazingly, in his final 24 hours in office, Donald Trump found one more way to fail to live up to the ethical standard of Richard Nixon.”
Democrat Adam Schiff tweeted: “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.”
Bannon was recently banned from Twitter for calling for the beheading of Dr Anthony Fauci and the FBI director, Christopher Wray.
He and Trump have been estranged since the former adviser left the White House and made critical remarks about the president in a tell-all book about the president called Fire and Fury by journalist Michael Wolff. Trump said his former consigliere had “lost his mind”.
Despite Trump’s last-minute move on Bannon, reportedly delayed because the president was so torn on the issue, it would not protect his former adviser from charges brought by state courts.
Trump has also been mulling future political ambitions, according to the Wall Street Journal, reportedly speaking to aides about the possibility of forming a new political party. The president favoured the name Patriot Party, it reported.
Multiple Republican party figures defending Trump in his second impeachment, for inciting the Capitol attack on 6 January, counseled him not to offer pardons to any of the more than 100 people arrested as a result.
Previous recipients include aides and allies Michael Flynn, Roger Stone, George Papadopoulos and Paul Manafort, all convicted in the investigation of Russian election interference and links between Trump and Moscow, and Charles Kushner, the father of Trump’s son-in-law and chief adviser, Jared Kushner.
Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump were reportedly closely involved in the process deciding Trump’s final pardons.
Trump is due to leave Washington on Wednesday morning, ahead of Joe Biden’s inauguration as the 46th president. He will fly to Florida, stripped of the legal protection of office.
Trump faces state investigations of his business affairs and could face legal jeopardy over acts in office including his attempts to overturn election defeat and his incitement of the Capitol riot on 6 January, over which he was impeached a second time.
If Trump is convicted in his second Senate trial, he could be barred from running for office again.
Watch: KT McFarland says chaos will reign if Trump, Biden don't unify America