Trump Pardoned Steve Bannon but Not Assange, Snowden, or Joe Exotic

In the final hours of his presidency, Trump used his powers to help those close to him and his family. And Lil Wayne.
January 20, 2021, 9:07am
Trump Pardoned Steve Bannon but Not Assange, Snowden or Joe Exotic
Trump and his then-adviser Bannon pictured in the White House in January 2017. Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

In what’s likely to be his final act as president, Donald Trump announced in the early hours of Wednesday morning that he would be pardoning or commuting the sentences of 143 people, including many of his own friends and allies.

He issued full pardons to former strategist Steve Bannon, GOP fundraiser Elliott Broidy, and rapper Lil Wayne.

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But those not on the list include WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, whistleblower Edward Snowden, TV star Joe Exotic, and Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Supporters of Assange, who’s still facing extradition to the U.S. from the UK, and Snowden had hoped to see them pardoned — Chelsea Manning had her sentence commuted by Barack Obama four years ago.

Trump also decided against issuing himself or any of his family members preemptive pardons.

But just as he has done throughout his time in office, on his way out the door Trump is using his presidential power to help many of those close to him and his family.

Bannon’s pardon was perhaps the most surprising given the former adviser fell out with Trump and his family in 2018 following the release of Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury” in which Bannon attacked Trump’s adult children.

But Bloomberg reported this month that Bannon had returned to the Trump fold in recent weeks as the president struggled to find a way to overturn the election results. 

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Bannon was arrested and charged last August with defrauding hundreds of thousands of Trump supporters who paid into the “Build the Wall” fundraising campaign for a private border wall.

While almost all of the other entries on the list name at least one other person who supported the decision to pardon them, the entry for Bannon lists no such supporter. It simply says he was facing “charges related to fraud stemming from his involvement in a political project. Mr. Bannon has been an important leader in the conservative movement and is known for his political acumen.”

However, Bannon still faces legal risks as Trump’s pardon does not protect him from state-level prosecutions, and as legal analyst Elie Honig tweeted, “now the feds at SDNY need to walk the Bannon case file across the street to the Manhattan DA. Theft is theft, it's a state crime too.”

Broidy is another example of a Trumpworld ally who received a pardon. A major Republican fundraiser and organizer of Trump’s inaugural committee, Broidy has in the past been accused of helping Trump cover up his extramarital affairs

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Broidy pleaded guilty last fall in a scheme to lobby the Trump administration to drop an investigation into the looting of a Malaysian wealth fund. The note on the White House website about the pardon said Broidy was “well known for his numerous philanthropic efforts.”

Also pardoned was Ken Kurson, a former editor of the New York Observer and a close friend of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. He was charged last October with cyberstalking during a heated divorce and the note on the White House website quotes his ex-wife saying she thought his arrest was “disgusting.”

However, Kurson was not charged with stalking his ex-wife, but three other people, including following them to work, smearing their names using aliases,  and in one case concocting a false accusation against one of his victims of improper conduct with a minor.

“Even Nixon didn’t pardon his cronies on the way out,” Noah Bookbinder, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said in a statement. “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.”

Trump also pardoned a number of former lawmakers who had been found guilty of corruption and bribery while in office.

He pardoned former Rep. Rick Renzi, an Arizona Republican who served three years for corruption, money laundering, and other charges,  while former Rep. Duke Cunningham of California, who was convicted of accepting $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors, received a conditional pardon.

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Trump commuted the prison sentence of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who has served about seven years behind bars for a racketeering and bribery scheme.

Trump also pardoned Anthony Levandowski, a former Google engineer who stole a massive cache of secret files from the company’s self-driving car division, and was sentenced to 18 months in prison last August for what the judge called the "biggest trade secret crime I have ever seen.”

The pardon was granted thanks in part to the lobbying of Peter Thiel, one of the only Trump support in Silicon Valley, and Palmer Luckey, the former Oculus executive who held a Trump fundraiser in October. 

Trump had been considering issuing preemptive pardons for himself and members of his own family but, according to CNN, he was talked out of it by White House counsel Pat Cipollone last weekend who warned that such a move would give the perception of guilt, leave him vulnerable to reprisals, and put him in a legally perilous position.

One of those who seemed certain they would be included on the pardon list was Joe Exotic, the criminally-convicted star of Netflix’s “Tiger King” documentary, who even hired a stretch limo and parked it outside his prison on Tuesday in anticipation of his release.