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Trump grants pardons or clemency to another 29 people, including Charles Kushner and two convicted in Russia probe

FILE - In this Thursday, June 27, 2019 file photo, Paul Manafort arrives in court in New York. President Trump's former
FILE - In this Thursday, June 27, 2019 file photo, Paul Manafort arrives in court in New York. President Trump's former campaign manager is to be arraigned on state mortgage fraud charges. President Donald Trump on Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020 issued pardons and sentence commutations for 29 people, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Charles Kushner, the father of his son-in-law, in the latest burst of clemency in his final weeks at the White House. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump on Wednesday granted pardons or clemency to another 29 people, including real estate developer Charles Kushner, his son-in-law’s father, and two former advisers who were convicted as part of the FBI’s 2016 probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election - once again using his executive power to benefit his allies and undermine an investigation that dogged his presidency.

With his time in office nearing its end, Trump pardoned former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was convicted in 2018 of committing financial fraud and conspiring to obstruct the investigation of his crimes, and he upgraded the clemency he had earlier provided to longtime friend Roger Stone to a full pardon.

Trump also pardoned Kushner, the father of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, who pleaded guilty to in 2004 to having made false statements to the Federal Election Commission, witness tampering, and tax evasion stemming from $6 million in political contributions and gifts mischaracterized as business expenses.

The move came just a day after Trump granted clemency or pardons to 20 people, including three former Republican members of Congress and two others who were convicted of crimes as part of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The president also pardoned military contractors involved in the killing of unarmed civilians during the Iraq War.

With Wednesday’s pardon of Manafort, Trump has now intervened to aid five people charged in the Russia probe, which was eventually taken over by special counsel Robert Mueller III III. The White House announcement of the pardons made no secret that Trump was taking aim at that investigation. A White House announcement of the pardons called said Manfort’s convictions were “premised on the Russian collusion hoax,” and that the pardon for Stone would “help to right the injustices he faced at the hands of the Mueller investigation.”

In November, Trump pardoned former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his dealings with a Russian diplomat, though he later sought to take it back. In July, he commuted the sentence for Stone, who was convicted of seeking to impede a congressional investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and sentenced to 40 months in prison. And on Tuesday, he pardoned George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to his 2016 campaign who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI during its Russia investigation, and Alex van der Zwaan, a Dutch lawyer who pleaded guilty in 2018 to lying to Mueller’s team.

Trump has drawn significant criticism for how he has used his pardon power, though one adviser said the president is unconcerned about the blowback.

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“He’s just burning it all down,” this person said. The adviser said the president has also discussed pardoning former Stephen Bannon, his former chief strategist, and Rudy Giuliani, his personal lawyer, and will issue dozens more before he leaves office.

Trump flew to his resort at Mar-a-Lago Wednesday, where he was greeted by hundreds of supporters along his motorcade route. The mostly unmasked supporters waved Trump flags and signs and chanted “Four more years!”One small boy had a sign that said, “We’re going to miss you.”

The practical effect of Trump’s latest move particularly significant for Manafort, who had been facing a half-year federal prison sentence, though he was released to home confinement in May, about two years in, over fears of coronavirus. Manafort was found guilty in Virginia federal court in 2018 of stashing the money he made as a lobbyist from Ukrainian oligarchs overseas to avoid taxes and then committing bank fraud to keep up a lavish lifestyle when his patrons lost power. He then pleaded guilty to related charges in D.C. federal court and pledged to cooperate with the special counsel, but a judge concluded that he lied to investigators, notably about his interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik, a longtime aide assessed by the FBI to have ties to Russian intelligence.

During the 2016 campaign, Manafort gave Kilimnik internal Trump campaign polling data; Mueller’s investigators said they were never able to determine how Kilimnik used the information.

Charles Kushner, who was sentenced to two years in prison, already had served his time. Among the allegations brought by prosecutors were that he paid for an unnamed individual’s private school tuition out of company accounts and declared the payments as charitable contributions on his tax returns, according to court documents.

Upon his release Charles Kushner resumed practicing real estate development and his New Jersey-based firm manages more than 20,000 apartments in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, and Tennessee.

Jared Kushner, husband of Ivanka Trump, has long held that the prosecution against his father, led by then U.S. attorney Chris Christie, was unjust, despite his father’s guilty pleas.

According to court documents, while Charles Kushner was under investigation for campaign contributions, he grew angry when he learned that other family members were cooperating with the probe. He paid a prostitute to seduce his brother-in-law in a New Jersey motel room, where hidden cameras had been set, and later had the tape mailed to his sister as a warning, according to the documents.

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The conviction changed Jared Kushner’s trajectory, he later said, from his goal of becoming a prosecutor. “Seeing my father’s situation, I felt what happened was obviously unjust in terms of the way they pursued him,” he told a real estate magazine, The Real Deal, in 2014. “I just never wanted to be on the other side of that and cause pain to the families I was doing that to, whether right or wrong.”

Jared Kushner’s continued ownership stake in his family’s business while working in the White House repeatedly raised concerns among ethics officials and experts, particularly when the Kushner Cos. was seeking buyers and lenders for its money-losing project at 666 Fifth Avenue in New York. Brookfield Properties took over the property from the Kushners in 2018 and renamed it 660 Fifth.

Charles Kushner told the New York Times in 2018 that he would “prefer not to have a pardon” because of the publicity it would generate.

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The Washington Post’s Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.

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