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Trump's latest pardons and veto of defense bill cap chaotic pre-Christmas flurry

David Knowles
·Editor
·5-min read

President Trump vetoed the annual defense spending bill Wednesday, the lame duck’s latest parting shot at Congress, before he was scheduled to leave Washington for Mar-a-Lago, his private Florida country club.

While Trump has long promised to veto the National Defense Authorization Act, Congress passed the $740 billion bill earlier this month by a veto-proof margin, the House of Representatives by a vote of 335-87 and the Senate by 84-13. The House is expected to vote to override Trump’s veto on Monday, while the Senate is slated to vote the following day.

“My administration has taken strong actions to help keep our Nation safe and support our service members,” Trump said in a written message to the House of Representatives. “I will not approve this bill, which would have put the interests of the Washington, D.C., establishment over those of the American people.”

In a statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi lashed out at the president for his decision to veto the bill.

“For 60 years, the National Defense Authorization Act has been passed on a bipartisan & bicameral basis,” Pelosi said in her statement. “The President’s veto of the #NDAA is an act of recklessness that harms our troops, endangers our security & undermines the will of Congress.”

Trump demanded that as part of the defense bill, Congress revoke legal protections to social media companies involving third-party content.

But numerous Republican lawmakers said they did not agree that the NDAA was the place to address Section 230, which the president believes creates an environment that unfairly targets him and other conservatives.

“[Section] 230 has nothing to do with the military,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe, R-Okla., said earlier this month, adding, “I agree with his sentiments, we ought to do away with 230 — but you can’t do it in this bill.”

Hours after he announced he would veto the defense bill, Trump issued his latest in a slew of 26 pardons, most notably to Charles Kushner, the father of his son-in-law Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman, and longtime friend Roger Stone. While Kushner had pleaded guilty 2004 to 16 counts of tax evasion, Manafort and Stone were charged in connection with special prosecutor Robert Muller’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to the Russian government in the 2016 election. While Trump had already commuted Stone’s 40-month prison sentence, Manafort will now be spared 7 years behind bars for fraud in his financial dealings in the former Soviet Union.

The latest round of pardons come one day after Trump, who is now in the final month of his presidency, issued 15 pardons and five commutations. Among those to receive pardons on Tuesday were four military contractors who worked for the security company Blackwater and were convicted in the 2007 massacre of 17 Iraqi civilians. Trump also intervened on behalf of his political allies Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., who had pleaded guilty to charges of insider trading, and Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who pleaded guilty to stealing campaign funds.

Donald Trump and Melania Trump
Donald and Melania Trump depart the White House en route to Mar-a-Lago on Wednesday. (Samuel Corum/AFP via Getty Images)

His pardons have given ammunition to his political enemies, who have noted the president’s personal ties to those he has absolved. Even so, he is expected to announce more in the coming hours.

In addition to those decisions, Trump further threw Washington into disarray on Tuesday after he released a video calling on lawmakers to amend their COVID-relief bill so that it would be stripped of items that Trump himself had included in his budget and demanded that $2,000 direct payments be made to every American citizen. Congress, which had worked for months with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to hammer out the contentious deal for the stimulus package, had agreed to $600 payments.

Trump’s decision to post his opposition to the stimulus package even surprised Mnuchin, who had tweeted hours earlier that he was “pleased that Congress has passed on an overwhelming bipartisan basis additional critical economic relief for American workers, families and businesses.”

Absent Trump’s signature on the COVID-relief package, lawmakers will face the possibility of yet another government shutdown.

Amid all the turmoil and disruption Trump’s actions have caused in Washington this week, the president continues to insist without evidence that he was the rightful winner of the 2020 election. For staffers and critics alike, the alternate reality is taking its toll.

On Wednesday morning, the White House Management Office sent out an internal memo telling staffers in the Executive Office of the President to begin preparing to leave work prior to next month’s transition, Politico reported. Minutes later, an email was sent to those staffers telling them to “please disregard” the earlier guidance.

Attorney General William Barr, whose last day on the job is Wednesday, has told associates he has been alarmed by Trump’s behavior, the New York Times reported, while other staffers say they are, according to the paper, “worn out and are looking forward to the end of the term.”

Despite that fatigue, many in Washington remain concerned about what Trump might yet be contemplating before he leaves office on Jan. 20. Moments before he departed the White House for Florida, the president tweeted as if answering that question.

“Some friendly health advice to Iran: If one American is killed, I will hold Iran responsible,” Trump concluded. “Think it over.”

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