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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Trump, Donald J" (Page 45)

Russia Backs Trump’s Re-election, and He Fears Democrats Will Exploit Its Support

Westlake Legal Group 20dc-intel-facebookJumbo-v2 Russia Backs Trump’s Re-election, and He Fears Democrats Will Exploit Its Support United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Schiff, Adam B Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Presidential Election of 2020 Office of the Director of National Intelligence Maguire, Joseph (1952- ) House Committee on Intelligence Grenell, Richard Espionage and Intelligence Services Democratic Party Cyberwarfare and Defense Classified Information and State Secrets

WASHINGTON — Intelligence officials warned House lawmakers last week that Russia was interfering in the 2020 campaign to try to get President Trump re-elected, five people familiar with the matter said, in a disclosure that angered Mr. Trump, who complained that Democrats would use it against him.

The day after the Feb. 13 briefing to lawmakers, Mr. Trump berated Joseph Maguire, the outgoing acting director of national intelligence, for allowing it to take place, people familiar with the exchange said. Mr. Trump cited the presence in the briefing of Representative Adam B. Schiff, the California Democrat who led the impeachment proceedings against him, as a particular irritant.

During the briefing to the House Intelligence Committee, Mr. Trump’s allies challenged the conclusions, arguing that Mr. Trump has been tough on Russia and strengthened European security. Some intelligence officials viewed the briefing as a tactical error, saying that had the official who delivered the conclusion spoken less pointedly or left it out, they would have avoided angering the Republicans.

That intelligence official, Shelby Pierson, is an aide to Mr. Maguire who has a reputation of delivering intelligence in somewhat blunt terms. The president announced on Wednesday that he was replacing Mr. Maguire with Richard Grenell, the ambassador to Germany and long an aggressively vocal Trump supporter.

Though some current and former officials speculated that the briefing may have played a role in the removal of Mr. Maguire, who had told people in recent days that he believed he would remain in the job, two administration officials said the timing was coincidental. Mr. Grenell had been in discussions with the administration about taking on new roles, they said, and Mr. Trump had never felt a personal kinship with Mr. Maguire.

Spokeswomen for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and its election security office declined to comment. A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A House intelligence committee official called the Feb. 13 briefing an important update about “the integrity of our upcoming elections” and said that members of both parties attended, including Representative Devin Nunes of California, the top Republican on the committee.

The Washington Post first reported the Oval Office confrontation between Mr. Trump and Mr. Maguire.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Eric Schmitt and Elisabeth Bumiller contributed reporting.

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Aide Accused of Being Anonymous Op-Ed Writer Is Reassigned to Energy Department

Westlake Legal Group merlin_169055592_dc23b52b-5451-4db1-b6db-0ebbcbe61a1f-facebookJumbo Aide Accused of Being Anonymous Op-Ed Writer Is Reassigned to Energy Department Writing and Writers United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J New York Times Energy Department Coates, Victoria Appointments and Executive Changes

WASHINGTON — The White House is transferring a senior national security aide who fell under suspicion of writing an anonymous insider account of dissent within the Trump administration, the latest of several senior personnel moves stemming from questions of loyalty to President Trump.

Victoria Coates, Mr. Trump’s deputy national security adviser, will move on Monday to the Department of Energy, where she will serve as a senior adviser to Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette.

Robert C. O’Brien, the national security adviser, announced on Thursday the staff shift in a statement, saying her move was intended to “ensure the close alignment of energy policy with national security objectives.” The move was first reported by Axios.

But current and former administration officials said Ms. Coates, who managed Middle East and North Africa issues on the National Security Council, had been targeted by a whisper campaign among some pro-Trump conservatives that she was Anonymous, an official who wrote a September 2018 Op-Ed essay for The New York Times that was expanded into a book that was published last year.

The Times identified Anonymous as only “a senior official in the Trump administration.” The unnamed official, whose identity is known to the senior leadership of the Times editorial page department but not to their counterparts in the news department or to reporters who cover the White House, has managed to remain anonymous for more than a year in spite of frenzied efforts to uncover the person’s identity. It is unclear whether the person still works in government.

Ms. Coates’s allies dispute the notion that she is the unnamed author, who wrote that many Trump officials, including the author, “are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.” Mr. Trump and his senior advisers were enraged by the essay and have made efforts to identify who wrote it.

A senior administration official who declined to be named said that the White House “does not put any stock in the suggestion” that Ms. Coates was the author of the book and the Times opinion essay. The official said her transfer had been in the works for several weeks.

But the accusations against her had become a significant distraction. Last week, as rumors circulated about her job status, Ms. Coates was scheduled to appear on a panel at the conservative Hudson Institute. She never showed up, providing no advance explanation.

Earlier this month, the literary agents for Anonymous issued a statement vehemently denying that Ms. Coates, an art historian who had worked with them on her 2016 book about art and democracy, was the author in question.

Known as a hawk on Middle East issues, including Israel and Iran, Ms. Coates previously served as a foreign policy aide to Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas. She has held multiple national security jobs in the Trump administration and was promoted to deputy national security adviser shortly after Mr. O’Brien took over the National Security Council last fall.

Her departure came shortly after the dismissal from the council of Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, who testified against Mr. Trump during impeachment hearings in the House, along with Mr. Vindman’s brother, also a national security staffer. The two men were reassigned to the Department of Defense, from which they had been detailed to the National Security Council.

Those dismissals and Ms. Coates’s reassignment are unrelated to a downsizing of the council’s staff that Mr. O’Brien initiated. Mr. O’Brien has said the staff cuts — trimming the agency’s size from 176 positions to less than 115 by the end of this month — are necessary to streamline operations, but critics see the moves as convenient cover for pushing out officials of uncertain loyalty to Mr. Trump.

“While I’m sad to lose an important member of our team,” Mr. O’Brien said in a statement, “Victoria will be a big asset to Secretary Brouillette as he executes the president’s energy security policy priorities.”

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Trump’s New Intelligence Director Faces a Legal Countdown Clock on His Tenure

Westlake Legal Group 20dc-dni-facebookJumbo Trump’s New Intelligence Director Faces a Legal Countdown Clock on His Tenure United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Office of the Director of National Intelligence Grenell, Richard Espionage and Intelligence Services Appointments and Executive Changes

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s new acting director of intelligence may hold the job for only about three weeks — unless the White House quickly finds a permanent nominee to offer to the Senate for confirmation.

The president tapped Richard Grenell, the American ambassador to Germany, on Wednesday to also serve as the acting director of national intelligence, overseeing the nation’s 17 spy agencies. Mr. Grenell agreed to hold the post for only a limited period of time, according to people familiar with his plan.

Federal law gives the president a great deal of flexibility to appoint whomever he chooses to the position on a temporary basis while his official nominee for the job awaits confirmation from the Senate. Under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, Mr. Grenell can serve in his post only until March 11 unless the president formally nominates someone else for the job.

That move would allow Mr. Grenell to serve for months longer as the nomination works its way through the Senate. Two administration officials said that officials were aware that they must nominate someone else soon, and that the process to find a formal nominee was underway.

“The President will announce the Nominee (not me) sometime soon,” Mr. Grenell wrote on Twitter on Thursday morning.

It was the latest instance of complicated maneuvering by the White House to place people the president favors in specific positions. Mr. Grenell, a Trump loyalist, has little experience in intelligence or in running a large bureaucracy, and would be likely to face resistance in the Senate if he were nominated permanently for the post. Notably, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard M. Burr, Republican of North Carolina, has not issued a statement praising Mr. Grenell.

It was not clear whom Mr. Trump would nominate, and indeed he might choose someone with little chance at drawing Senate approval to keep Mr. Grenell in the position as long as he can.

Even if the Senate rejected a new nominee, it would effectively reset the clock on Mr. Grenell’s tenure, said Eric Columbus, a former Obama administration Justice Department official.

“The Federal Vacancies Reform Act is coming into play constantly in this administration and allows the president a great deal of leeway in appointing acting officials,” Mr. Columbus said.

Stephen I. Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, agreed, saying an “acting” appointee could follow someone else who was “acting” so long as there was a new nominee who had been sent to the Senate.

Without that, he said, “it doesn’t extend the clock” on how long the temporary appointee can serve.

Mr. Grenell replaces Joseph Maguire, who was also an acting director of intelligence and may have had to give up the position by March 11, according to federal law.

The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel reviewed the vacancies act and how it applied to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence last year, when the president appointed Mr. Maguire.

“The clocks are very generous,” Mr. Columbus said. “They were intended for good-faith uses, and it may very well be they are acting in good faith and they intend to nominate someone who can be confirmed and they aren’t going to nominate Judge Judy.”

But Mr. Columbus argued that Mr. Maguire did not need to be replaced to reset the clock on an acting director.

“There was no legal impediment to keeping Maguire and just making a permanent nomination,” he said. “That he is getting rid of Maguire now suggests he is maybe dissatisfied with what Maguire did in regards to the Ukraine whistle-blower.”

Even before his new appointment on Wednesday, Mr. Grenell had been working with the White House on issues related to intelligence, including pressuring Germany and other allies not to use the Chinese telecom company Huawei to build the next-generation mobile network known as 5G over security concerns. He is not giving up his ambassadorship to Germany or a broader diplomatic portfolio that involves developing a rail path between Kosovo and Serbia.

Mr. Grenell has spoken to people about the need to have the Office of the Director of National Intelligence function as an entity that is not in competition with the various intelligence branches, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

Before Mr. Grenell’s appointment became public on Wednesday, the decision was kept under wraps within the White House, with only a few people aware of it ahead of time.

Julian E. Barnes reported from Washington, and Maggie Haberman from New York.

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Roger Stone Is Sentenced to Over 3 Years in Prison

Westlake Legal Group 20dc-stone-sub2-facebookJumbo Roger Stone Is Sentenced to Over 3 Years in Prison United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Stone, Roger J Jr Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Presidential Election of 2020 Justice Department Jackson, Amy Berman Barr, William P

WASHINGTON — Roger J. Stone Jr., the Republican political consultant who for years portrayed himself as the dirty trickster of American politics, was sentenced Thursday to more than three years in prison for obstructing a congressional inquiry in a bid to protect President Trump.

The case against Mr. Stone, 67, a longtime friend of Mr. Trump’s, had become a cause célèbre among the president’s supporters. Mr. Trump has attacked the prosecutors, the jury forewoman and the federal judge overseeing the trial, casting his former campaign adviser as the victim of a vendetta by law enforcement.

Mr. Stone was convicted of lying to congressional investigators and trying to block the testimony of a witness who would have exposed his lies to the House Intelligence Committee. At the time, the panel was investigating whether Mr. Trump’s campaign conspired with the Russian government to influence the 2016 presidential election.

His sentencing played out amid extraordinary upheaval at the Justice Department set off by Attorney General William P. Barr overruling prosecutors on the case who had asked for a seven- to nine-year sentence. Mr. Barr said that was too harsh.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson excoriated Mr. Stone, saying his efforts to thwart a legitimate congressional inquiry of national importance were “a threat to our most fundamental institutions, to the very foundation of our democracy.” But she stopped well short of the original prosecutors’ recommendation, handing down a sentence of 40 months in prison for Mr. Stone.

Without mentioning Mr. Trump or any of his allies by name, she seemed to point to their conduct, too. “The dismay and the disgust at the attempts by others to defend his actions as just business as usual in our polarized climate should transcend party,” she said. “The dismay and disgust at any attempt to interfere with the efforts of prosecutors and members of the judiciary to fulfill their duty should transcend party.”

Mr. Stone is among a half-dozen former Trump aides to be convicted — many on charges of lying to investigators or obstructing inquiries — in cases stemming from the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, into Russia’s election interference. Most already served their sentences or are in prison.

Mr. Stone’s lawyers were expected to appeal.

The case also prompted a virtual standoff between the president and Attorney General William P. Barr over Mr. Trump’s comments about it. The president has criticized the jury’s verdict, claiming that “the real crimes were on the other side.” He intensified those attacks after the prosecutors recommended that Mr. Stone be sentenced to seven to nine years in prison. Their request, Mr. Trump said, was “horrible and very unfair” and constituted a “miscarriage of justice.”

Almost simultaneously, Mr. Barr overruled the prosecutors’ sentencing recommendation and a new one was filed in court. It recommended a prison term well below seven to nine years but left the specific length of time up to the judge. The reversal, more aligned with Mr. Trump’s preference, led all four prosecutors to withdraw from the case. One resigned from the Justice Department entirely.

John Crabb Jr., a prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, apologized during the sentencing hearing for “the confusion” over the government’s sentencing position and stressed that the prosecutors who quit from the case were not to blame.

He said that department policy is to follow the sentencing guidelines in recommending punishment, and those prosecutors did so. He also said the department continued to believe that aggravating factors in the case had boosted the penalty recommended under the guidelines for Mr. Stone fivefold. “The Department of Justice and the United States attorney’s office is committed to enforcing the law without fear, favor or political influence,” he said.

He said Mr. Stone’s offenses were serious and worthy of a “substantial period of incarceration,” but left it up to the judge to decide the right punishment. He blamed the competing sentencing memorandums on “miscommunication” between Timothy Shea, the interim United States attorney, and his superiors at Justice Department headquarters.

Judge Jackson questioned him closely about the process, asking whether he wrote the second sentencing memorandum or simply signed it. And she asked him point-blank about the last-minute switch in the prosecution team. “Why are you standing here today?” she demanded.

Mr. Crabb deflected some of her questions, saying, “I apologize I cannot engage in discussions of internal deliberations.”

The case ignited a broader controversy as former and current government lawyers accused Mr. Barr of failing to protect the department from improper political influence from the White House. In an open letter, more than 2,000 former Justice Department employees have called for Mr. Barr to resign, claiming “interference in the fair administration of justice” by both the attorney general and the president.

In a television interview last Thursday, Mr. Barr said he had decided to recommend a more lenient punishment for Mr. Stone based on the merits of the case. He also asked the president to stop publicly opining about the department’s criminal cases, saying it was making his job “impossible.”

In a last-ditch effort to delay the sentencing, Mr. Stone’s lawyers moved for a new trial on the basis of juror misconduct — a claim that Mr. Trump highlighted in one of his tweets.

Judge Jackson said she would review the motion and the government’s response and would schedule a hearing if necessary. But she refused to put off Mr. Stone’s sentencing while those efforts were underway.

At the sentencing, Judge Jackson took special umbrage at the defense team’s argument to the jury that Mr. Stone’s lies did not matter. “The truth still exists. The truth still matters” in official government proceedings, she said. Otherwise, she said, “everyone loses.”

In their initial sentencing memorandum, federal prosecutors said that Mr. Stone deserved a stiff sentence because he threatened a witness with bodily harm, deceived congressional investigators and carried out an extensive, deliberate, illegal scheme that included repeatedly lying under oath and forging documents.

Even after he was charged in a felony indictment, the prosecutors said, Mr. Stone continued to try to manipulate the administration of justice by threatening Judge Jackson in a social media post and violating her gag orders. Those and other factors justified a stiff sentence under advisory federal guidelines, they said.

The witness, a New York radio host named Randy Credico, ultimately invoked his Fifth Amendment rights rather than testify before the House Intelligence Committee, although he later was interviewed by the F.B.I. and appeared before a federal grand jury.

In a letter submitted to the judge on Mr. Stone’s behalf, Mr. Credico undercut the prosecutors’ argument, saying he never feared that Mr. Stone himself would harm him. But during the trial, he testified that he feared that Mr. Stone, a well-known political commentator, could create havoc in his life if he did not bend to his wishes, and prosecutors said he feared that Mr. Stone could stir others to violence.

The second sentencing memo, signed Mr. Shea, said Mr. Stone should be imprisoned but that a term of seven to nine years would be excessive. “Ultimately, the government defers to the court as to what specific sentence is appropriate under the facts and circumstances of this case,” Mr. Shea wrote.

Zach Montague contributed reporting.

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The 11 Criminals Granted Clemency by Trump Had One Thing in Common: Connections

Westlake Legal Group merlin_169111542_af3b58f0-a87a-4194-b641-8c3436aaf4ce-facebookJumbo The 11 Criminals Granted Clemency by Trump Had One Thing in Common: Connections United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Stanton, Angela Safavian, David H Pogue, Paul Negron, Judith Munoz, Crystal Milken, Michael R Kerik, Bernard B Johnson, Alice Marie Hall, Tynice Nichole Friedler, Ariel Blagojevich, Rod R Amnesties, Commutations and Pardons

WASHINGTON — Early Tuesday morning, Bernard B. Kerik’s telephone rang. On the line was David Safavian, a friend and fellow former government official who like Mr. Kerik was once imprisoned for misconduct. Mr. Safavian had life-changing news.

Mr. Safavian, who had ties to the White House, said that he was putting together a letter asking President Trump to pardon Mr. Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner who pleaded guilty to tax fraud and other charges. Mr. Safavian needed names of supporters to sign the letter. By noon.

Mr. Kerik hit the phones. Shortly after 10 a.m., he reached Geraldo Rivera, the Fox News correspondent and a friend of Mr. Trump’s. Mr. Rivera, who described Mr. Kerik as “an American hero,” instantly agreed to sign the one-page letter. Mr. Kerik called Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York, and when Mr. Safavian reached Mr. King around 10:30, he too agreed to sign.

At 11:57 a.m., Mr. Kerik’s phone rang again. This time it was the president.

“He said, ‘As we speak, I am signing a full presidential pardon on your behalf,’” Mr. Kerik recalled in an interview on Wednesday. “Once he started talking and I realized what we were talking about, I got emotional.”

At 1:41 p.m., Mr. Trump approached reporters before boarding Air Force One and mentioned that he had pardoned Mr. Kerik. At 2:10, the White House announced that Mr. Safavian had been pardoned as well.

The clemency orders that the president issued that day to celebrity felons like Mr. Kerik, Rod R. Blagojevich and Michael R. Milken came about through a typically Trumpian process, an ad hoc scramble that bypassed the formal procedures used by past presidents and was driven instead by friendship, fame, personal empathy and a shared sense of persecution. While aides said the timing was random, it reinforced Mr. Trump’s antipathy toward the law enforcement establishment.

All 11 recipients had an inside connection or were promoted on Fox News. Some were vocal supporters of Mr. Trump, donated to his campaign or in one case had a son who weekended in the Hamptons with the president’s eldest son. Even three obscure women serving time on drug or fraud charges got on Mr. Trump’s radar screen through a personal connection.

While 14,000 clemency petitions sit unaddressed at the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney, Mr. Trump eagerly granted relief to a former football team owner who hosted a pre-inauguration party, a onetime contestant on “Celebrity Apprentice” and an infamous investor championed both by Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, and by the billionaire who hosted a $10 million fund-raiser for Mr. Trump just last weekend.

“There is now no longer any pretense of regularity,” said Margaret Love, who served as pardon attorney under President Bill Clinton and now represents clients seeking clemency. “The president seems proud to declare that he makes his own decisions without relying on any official source of advice, but acts on the recommendation of friends, colleagues and political allies.”

Mr. Trump’s advisers acknowledged that the process was unique to this president, but stressed that he had become personally committed to countering the excesses of the criminal justice system, a mission fueled by his own scalding encounters with investigations since taking office. In addition to his pardons, Mr. Trump in 2018 signed the First Step Act providing sentencing relief for many criminals.

“The president seems to be someone who’s willing to listen to people’s appeals,” said Robert Blagojevich, who lobbied for a commutation for his brother, Rod Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois sentenced to 14 years for trying to essentially sell the Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama. “I think he’s just got an antenna to listen to people who have been truly wronged by the system.”

Indeed, Mr. Trump takes personal pleasure in dispensing mercy. He called Patti Blagojevich, who is married to the former governor, right after signing the papers on Tuesday. He likewise called Ricky Munoz to tell him that his wife, Crystal Munoz, was coming home.

Advisers said there is little rhyme or reason to how Mr. Trump chooses clemency recipients. He meets with advisers every few weeks to discuss various cases. Once he makes a decision, he tends to announce them right away, without bothering to draft a communications strategy, reasoning that there is no point in anyone sitting in prison longer than needed.

Mr. Trump recognizes that his friends-and-family approach generates criticism, but has repeatedly cited his 2018 pardon of I. Lewis Libby Jr. as proof that he is willing to absorb attacks that others would not. President George W. Bush refused to pardon Mr. Libby, who served as chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney and was convicted of lying to the authorities.

Mr. Trump has known some of those he favored this week for years, including Mr. Kerik and Mr. Milken, the so-called junk bond king who tried at least twice to obtain a pardon from Mr. Bush without success. Mr. Trump called Mr. Milken “a brilliant guy” in his first memoir and has hosted him at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. He called Mr. Kerik “a friend of mine” and “a great guy” in 2004 when Mr. Kerik was forced to withdraw his nomination for Mr. Bush’s secretary of homeland security because of ethics issues.

In addition to Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Milken’s pardon was supported by Mr. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and his developer friends Howard Lorber and Richard LeFrak. Also supportive was Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, a longtime friend who last year flew on Mr. Milken’s private jet from Washington to Los Angeles and helped secure a real estate tax break that could benefit Mr. Milken.

Paul Pogue, the former owner of a Texas construction company, was pardoned for tax charges after his family contributed more than $200,000 in the last six months to help re-elect Mr. Trump. In August, his son Benjamin and daughter-in-law Ashleigh posted a picture on Instagram of themselves with Donald Trump Jr. and his girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, in the Hamptons. “What an experience spending the weekend with these two and more!” Ms. Pogue wrote.

In announcing his pardon, the White House cited Paul Pogue’s charitable work around the world, including the creation of two nonprofit organizations that help rebuild churches and provide aid to people after natural disasters.

Ariel Friedler, the former executive of a software development company who pleaded guilty to conspiring to hack a competitor, found his way in the door through Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey and a close ally of Mr. Trump’s.

Mr. Christie said on Wednesday that he met with Mr. Friedler in person and agreed to represent him in a pardon application after being referred by a former prosecutor he knew. Mr. Christie said he heard nothing since 2018 about the case until Mr. Trump called him out of the blue last Thursday to ask about it.

“He said, ‘Listen, I’ve reviewed the application, but tell me what you think about this guy and what happened to him,’” Mr. Christie said. A former prosecutor himself, Mr. Christie said he told the president that the government had overreached.

“Do you really think this guy has a good heart?” he recalled Mr. Trump asking.

“I’m not soft,” Mr. Christie said he replied, “but this is over the top.”

Angela Stanton, an author and television personality with a record stemming from a stolen-vehicle ring, was championed by Alveda King, a niece of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. A Fox News contributor and outspoken Trump supporter, Ms. King appeared with Ms. Stanton at a “Women for Trump” summit meeting in 2018.

While most of this week’s recipients had political ties, Mr. Trump’s defenders pointed to three women whose sentences he commuted without any notable political background. But even those three — Ms. Munoz, 40, Tynice Nichole Hall, 36, and Judith Negron, 48 — came to his attention because of someone he already knew, Alice Marie Johnson.

Mr. Trump commuted Ms. Johnson’s life sentence for a nonviolent drug conviction in 2018 after the reality television star Kim Kardashian West made a personal plea. Since then, Ms. Johnson has become his prison reform whisperer and appeared in a multimillion-dollar Super Bowl ad for his campaign.

During an October appearance at Benedict College, a historically black school in South Carolina, Mr. Trump told Ms. Johnson to give him the names of others who had been mistreated. Ms. Johnson then traveled to Washington to meet with prisoner advocates and they identified about 10 women for the White House.

Ms. Johnson served in prison with all three of those released this week by Mr. Trump. “They don’t have Kim Kardashian, but they have me to fight for them,” she said in an interview. She was especially close to Ms. Munoz. “Crystal was like my daughter in prison,” she said. “In fact, I called her my prison daughter.”

Ms. Negron, who was sentenced to 35 years for Medicare fraud, filed a clemency petition years ago but it “disappeared into the bowels of the government,” according to her lawyer, Bill Norris. She was stunned to learn that the president had suddenly ordered her freed. “I’m indebted to him,” she said on Wednesday. “He gave us our dream come true. He gave me back my family. He gave me back our home. Just a new life. The nightmare is over.”

Ms. Munoz, serving nearly two decades on a marijuana charge, said that she was called to the office of her case manager and counselor on Tuesday. “When I went into their office, they said, ‘Who do you know? Do you know some people?’” She did not understand at first. But the person she knew had secured her a commutation.

Advocates for justice overhaul said Mr. Trump should be praised for his interventions. “Some people are trying to bash Trump for letting people circumvent the process and go directly to the White House,” said Amy Ralston Povah, the founder of the Clemency for All Nonviolent Drug Offenders Foundation. “But the system is broken.”

Among those activists these days is Mr. Safavian, the government’s top procurement official under Mr. Bush who was sentenced to a year in prison for covering up ties to the corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Now the general counsel for the American Conservative Union, Mr. Safavian lobbies for legislation and programs granting leniency and job training for lower-level drug offenders as well as white-collar former convicts like himself.

Not everyone believes in his conversion. Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, said Mr. Trump’s pardon of Mr. Safavian sent a message to dishonest officials to “wait long enough and a corrupt president may bless your corruption.”

But others, including the liberal CNN commentator Van Jones, praised Mr. Safavian’s work to redeem the system, calling him “a quiet wonder” and declining to second-guess the pardon. “I’m not going to criticize freedom,” Mr. Jones said. “I want more people to be able to come home.”

As with the others, Mr. Safavian had friends in the right places. The head of the conservative union, Matt Schlapp, is a strong supporter of Mr. Trump, and his wife, Mercedes Schlapp, worked as the White House strategic communications director before moving to the president’s campaign.

As he pushed for Mr. Kerik’s pardon, Mr. Safavian said he did not realize that he would receive one himself. “Quite frankly, it was out of the blue for me,” he said. “I was in the drive-through window at McDonald’s when I got the call that the president had just signed my pardon.

“I had zero role in the pardon process,” he added. “None. I didn’t ask for it.”

Peter Baker and Elizabeth Williamson reported from Washington, and J. David Goodman and Michael Rothfeld from New York. Reporting was contributed by Annie Karni, Zach Montague, Alan Rappeport and Michael D. Shear in Washington; Maggie Haberman and Jesse Drucker in New York; Mitch Smith in Chicago; Patricia Mazzei and Jack Begg in Miami; and Manny Fernandez in Houston.

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Trump Expected to Name Richard Grenell as Acting Head of Intelligence

Westlake Legal Group 19dc-dni-facebookJumbo Trump Expected to Name Richard Grenell as Acting Head of Intelligence United States Politics and Government United States International Relations United States Defense and Military Forces Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry State Department Presidential Election of 2020 Office of the Director of National Intelligence Maguire, Joseph (1952- ) Grenell, Richard Espionage and Intelligence Services Coats, Dan Appointments and Executive Changes

WASHINGTON — President Trump was expected to name Richard Grenell, the American ambassador to Germany, to be the acting director of national intelligence, three people familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.

Mr. Grenell, whose outspokenness throughout his career as a political operative and then as ambassador has prompted criticism, is a vocal Trump loyalist who will lead a group of national security agencies often viewed skeptically by the White House.

He would take over from Joseph Maguire, who has served as the acting director of national intelligence since the resignation last summer of Dan Coats, a former Republican senator from Indiana. Mr. Grenell, who has pushed to advance gay rights in his current post, would apparently also be the first openly gay cabinet member.

Mr. Grenell did not respond to a request for comment, nor did a White House spokesman. The people familiar with the move cautioned that the president had a history of changing his mind on personnel decisions after they were revealed in the news media.

Under American law, Mr. Maguire had to give up his temporary role before March 12. He could return to his old job as director of the National Counterterrorism Center, but he might choose to step down from government.

Mr. Trump can choose any Senate-confirmed official to replace Mr. Maguire as the acting head of the nation’s 17 intelligence agencies.

Mr. Maguire, a retired admiral, became the acting director in August just as a whistle-blower inside the C.I.A. filed a complaint about Mr. Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.

Since the acquittal of Mr. Trump in the Senate impeachment trial, the White House has been pushing to remove officials seen as disloyal or holding views contrary to the White House, looking for replacements who are more likely to follow the president’s wishes. While it has never been clear how Mr. Trump viewed Mr. Maguire, there is little doubt that the president would like a partisan fighter in the post before any public testimony before Congress.

Mr. Grenell has long been a strong voice on Twitter, posting about the dangers of Huawei, the Chinese company building next-generation telecommunications networks around the globe; the failure of European allies to spend enough on their military and other issues. He is one of the administration’s loudest critics of Huawei, pressuring Germany not to do business with the firm. Mr. Grenell has long been ambitious and has been anxious for a promotion from his diplomatic post. He was in contention to be national security adviser, a post that ultimately went to Robert C. O’Brien.

But Mr. Grenell is also a polarizing figure and his confirmation by the Senate is not assured, one reason the president intents to name him acting director, rather than formally nominating him for the job. A number of Republican senators have privately pushed the administration to nominate a national security professional or politician who is seen as a less divisive figure.

Since the beginning of his administration, Mr. Trump has viewed the intelligence agencies skeptically.

He has at times disparaged American intelligence agencies because he did not agree with their findings, such as the conclusion that Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election in an effort to help Mr. Trump win. He told his intelligence chiefs to “go back to school” after they offered assessments on Iran and North Korea at odds with his policy initiatives.

Anxious to avoid a repeat of that hearing, Mr. Maguire’s aides initially pushed for this year’s public hearing to be canceled, a request that lawmakers have rejected.

Tensions between the White House and intelligence agencies only grew during the impeachment inquiry. Mr. Maguire initially blocked the whistle-blower complaint from being forwarded to Congress, following the guidance of administration lawyers. But he eventually helped broker the agreement to provide the complaint to Congress’s intelligence committees, allowing the impeachment inquiry to gain steam.

Mr. Coats announced his resignation in July, effective Aug. 15. Including acting directors, nine people have served as head of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence since the job was created in late 2004 to improve the nation’s ability to fight terrorism. That law made the director of national intelligence the top intelligence adviser to the president.

When Mr. Coats announced his resignation, Mr. Trump initially nominated one of his loyalists, Representative John Ratcliffe, Republican of Texas, to be the next top intelligence chief, a job considered to be among the most nonpartisan in Washington. But Mr. Trump quickly dropped those plans after pushback from Democrats and some key Republicans who worried Mr. Ratcliffe’s loyalty to the president and lack of intelligence experience would make him nearly impossible to confirm. There were also concerns that Mr. Ratcliffe exaggerated some of what he included on his résumé.

During his tenure, Mr. Coats was unafraid to defend his employees and push back against some of the president’s claims that contradicted the intelligence agencies. He told intelligence officers in a speech that it was their duty to seek the truth about the world, “and when we find that truth, to speak the truth.”

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence was created after the Sept. 11 attacks to oversee the government’s vast network of 17 spy agencies and to ensure critical national security information was being shared across the government.

At the beginning of the Trump administration, Mike Pompeo, then the C.I.A. director, was the most prominent voice on intelligence matters. When Mr. Pompeo moved to the State Department, his successor, Gina Haspel, took a much less prominent role.

Ms. Haspel’s reluctance to speak publicly thrust Mr. Coats into the public spotlight. His criticism of the Mr. Trump and warnings about Russian interference in the election, drew the ire of the White House.

After Mr. Ratcliffe was dropped from consideration, Mr. Trump promised to announce a new nominee soon. But the list of people with the requisite experience who have not been critical of the president is slim.

The administration considered, and discarded, a number of potential nominees including Pete Hoekstra, the American ambassador to the Netherlands and a former Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and Representative Chris Stewart, a Utah Republican on the committee.

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Rod Blagojevich Comes Home to Chicago, Defiant, ‘Bloody,’ Ready to Talk

Westlake Legal Group 19blago-facebookJumbo Rod Blagojevich Comes Home to Chicago, Defiant, ‘Bloody,’ Ready to Talk Trump, Donald J Chicago (Ill) Blagojevich, Rod R Amnesties, Commutations and Pardons

CHICAGO — Rod R. Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois, emerged from his brick bungalow on Chicago’s North Side into shivering cold air on Wednesday, coatless, tieless and remorseless. Mr. Blagojevich, who had been in a Colorado prison until a day earlier, denounced a broken justice system, spoke of his “exile” behind bars, thanked President Trump for commuting his sentence and insisted that he had done nothing illegal.

“It’s been a long, long journey. I’m bruised, I’m battered and I’m bloody,” Mr. Blagojevich said, dabbing his chin with a handkerchief. He explained that he was still getting used to using a regular razor — unavailable in prison — and had nicked himself while shaving.

In a surprise move, Mr. Blagojevich, 63, was released from prison on Tuesday after Mr. Trump commuted his 14-year sentence criminal sentence for corruption after eight years. Mr. Blagojevich, then the Democratic governor, was arrested in 2008 when prosecutors said he had schemed to sell a Senate seat being vacated by Barack Obama, who had newly been elected president. Mr. Blagojevich was swiftly impeached, unanimously removed from office, convicted and cast out by his own party.

On Wednesday, there was a sense that Mr. Blagojevich — Blago, to Illinoisans — was picking up where he had left off.

In 2012, he departed for federal prison from precisely this spot, his family home, surrounded by a frenzy of television cameras. The spectacle returned on Wednesday, as a helicopter buzzed overhead. News reporters bundled in parkas to chronicle his return, drawing stares from neighbors and dog-walkers in what is usually a quiet neighborhood. Someone waved a cutout photo of Mr. Blagojevich’s smiling face, attached to a broomstick, high in the air.

True to form, Mr. Blagojevich emerged from his house later than promised (“We’re back on Blago time,” one reporter said), his dark brown hair turned silvery in prison. He spoke expansively for close to 20 minutes without notes, and with his wife, Patti, at his side.

He quoted the Bible and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He recited poetry. He denounced racism. He dropped a few Spanish words. He described himself as a “freed political prisoner” and said he hoped “to turn an injustice into a justice.”

And he spoke of his eight years in prison, the solitary nights behind “the iron door that can shut you in, a small window with bars on it, and a bunk bed.”

“I slept on the top bunk,” Mr. Blagojevich recalled. “Often late at night I would look through that window and past those bars out into the night sky and I’d think of home, I’d think of my children, I’d think of Patti. Sometimes I could almost feel her near me,” he said.

“Trump! Yeah, Trump! Four more years!” a man in the crowd shouted.

“Just ignore him,” Ms. Blagojevich murmured through her teeth.

“I would say to myself, ‘One day, one day I’ll make it back to you, and hold your hand, sweetheart,’” Mr. Blagojevich said. “‘And I will remember what a gracious thing it’s been to walk through life with you. Thank you for waiting.’” He nuzzled her cheek.

“You’re bleeding,” she said, and he obligingly dabbed his chin again.

Ms. Blagojevich has been one of her husband’s most vocal defenders, making appearances on Fox News where she pleaded for mercy and appealed to Mr. Trump to commute Mr. Blagojevich’s sentence.

It is unclear what Mr. Blagojevich’s next act will be.

He offered one clue while flying back to Chicago on Tuesday, on a commercial flight from Denver, near the prison, to O’Hare International Airport. Chuck Goudie, an ABC7 reporter, sat next to Mr. Blagojevich on the plane; during the flight, Mr. Blagojevich said that he needed to get a job.

Among the neighbors and onlookers who had gathered outside Mr. Blagojevich’s home, Ziff Sistrunk, 63, a supporter from the South Side, hung a sign from the Blagojevich front steps and said that he hoped that Mr. Blagojevich would spend his post-prison life working on behalf of ex-felons.

Mr. Sistrunk said that he wrote Mr. Blagojevich letters early in his prison term (Mr. Blagojevich did not answer them) and sent him money, believing that he had been unfairly convicted for using language that what was just the typical blustery talk of politicians.

“Everybody ran away from him like he had the plague, but I stuck with him for eight years,” he said. “Now that he’s out, I hope he humbles himself.”

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Rod Blagojevich Comes Home to Chicago, Defiant, ‘Bloody,’ Ready to Talk

Westlake Legal Group 19blago-facebookJumbo Rod Blagojevich Comes Home to Chicago, Defiant, ‘Bloody,’ Ready to Talk Trump, Donald J Chicago (Ill) Blagojevich, Rod R Amnesties, Commutations and Pardons

CHICAGO — Rod R. Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois, emerged from his brick bungalow on Chicago’s North Side into shivering cold air on Wednesday, coatless, tieless and remorseless. Mr. Blagojevich, who had been in a Colorado prison until a day earlier, denounced a broken justice system, spoke of his “exile” behind bars, thanked President Trump for commuting his sentence and insisted that he had done nothing illegal.

“It’s been a long, long journey. I’m bruised, I’m battered and I’m bloody,” Mr. Blagojevich said, dabbing his chin with a handkerchief. He explained that he was still getting used to using a regular razor — unavailable in prison — and had nicked himself while shaving.

In a surprise move, Mr. Blagojevich, 63, was released from prison on Tuesday after Mr. Trump commuted his 14-year sentence criminal sentence for corruption after eight years. Mr. Blagojevich, then the Democratic governor, was arrested in 2008 when prosecutors said he had schemed to sell a Senate seat being vacated by Barack Obama, who had newly been elected president. Mr. Blagojevich was swiftly impeached, unanimously removed from office, convicted and cast out by his own party.

On Wednesday, there was a sense that Mr. Blagojevich — Blago, to Illinoisans — was picking up where he had left off.

In 2012, he departed for federal prison from precisely this spot, his family home, surrounded by a frenzy of television cameras. The spectacle returned on Wednesday, as a helicopter buzzed overhead. News reporters bundled in parkas to chronicle his return, drawing stares from neighbors and dog-walkers in what is usually a quiet neighborhood. Someone waved a cutout photo of Mr. Blagojevich’s smiling face, attached to a broomstick, high in the air.

True to form, Mr. Blagojevich emerged from his house later than promised (“We’re back on Blago time,” one reporter said), his dark brown hair turned silvery in prison. He spoke expansively for close to 20 minutes without notes, and with his wife, Patti, at his side.

He quoted the Bible and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He recited poetry. He denounced racism. He dropped a few Spanish words. He described himself as a “freed political prisoner” and said he hoped “to turn an injustice into a justice.”

And he spoke of his eight years in prison, the solitary nights behind “the iron door that can shut you in, a small window with bars on it, and a bunk bed.”

“I slept on the top bunk,” Mr. Blagojevich recalled. “Often late at night I would look through that window and past those bars out into the night sky and I’d think of home, I’d think of my children, I’d think of Patti. Sometimes I could almost feel her near me,” he said.

“Trump! Yeah, Trump! Four more years!” a man in the crowd shouted.

“Just ignore him,” Ms. Blagojevich murmured through her teeth.

“I would say to myself, ‘One day, one day I’ll make it back to you, and hold your hand, sweetheart,’” Mr. Blagojevich said. “‘And I will remember what a gracious thing it’s been to walk through life with you. Thank you for waiting.’” He nuzzled her cheek.

“You’re bleeding,” she said, and he obligingly dabbed his chin again.

Ms. Blagojevich has been one of her husband’s most vocal defenders, making appearances on Fox News where she pleaded for mercy and appealed to Mr. Trump to commute Mr. Blagojevich’s sentence.

It is unclear what Mr. Blagojevich’s next act will be.

He offered one clue while flying back to Chicago on Tuesday, on a commercial flight from Denver, near the prison, to O’Hare International Airport. Chuck Goudie, an ABC7 reporter, sat next to Mr. Blagojevich on the plane; during the flight, Mr. Blagojevich said that he needed to get a job.

Among the neighbors and onlookers who had gathered outside Mr. Blagojevich’s home, Ziff Sistrunk, 63, a supporter from the South Side, hung a sign from the Blagojevich front steps and said that he hoped that Mr. Blagojevich would spend his post-prison life working on behalf of ex-felons.

Mr. Sistrunk said that he wrote Mr. Blagojevich letters early in his prison term (Mr. Blagojevich did not answer them) and sent him money, believing that he had been unfairly convicted for using language that what was just the typical blustery talk of politicians.

“Everybody ran away from him like he had the plague, but I stuck with him for eight years,” he said. “Now that he’s out, I hope he humbles himself.”

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John Rood, Top Defense Official, Latest to Leave After Impeachment Saga

Westlake Legal Group 19dc-rood-facebookJumbo John Rood, Top Defense Official, Latest to Leave After Impeachment Saga United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Rood, John C. impeachment Defense Department Anderson, James H

WASHINGTON — John C. Rood, the Defense Department’s top policy official, is the latest member of President Trump’s national security team involved in the Ukraine matter to leave the government.

Mr. Rood, the under secretary of defense for policy, will step down at the end of February, the department’s press secretary, Alyssa Farah, said Wednesday.

Mr. Rood was part of the team at the Defense Department that told Congress last year that Ukraine had made the necessary reforms to justify sending the country $250 million in promised security assistance. The certification was widely viewed as undermining a key argument Mr. Trump’s defense team made during his impeachment battle: that Mr. Trump withheld the aid because he was concerned about corruption in Ukraine.

Mr. Trump was impeached by the Democratic-controlled House but acquitted by the Republican-controlled Senate. Since his acquittal, the president has moved swiftly to purge administration officials whose presentation of events did not align with his own.

Mr. Rood’s departure, reported earlier by CNN, was not entirely unexpected; he and Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper were known to clash frequently early in their careers, and Mr. Esper was expected to fire him when he became Defense Secretary last year. But the dearth of respected national security policy experts willing to work for Mr. Trump has made it difficult for administration officials to fill jobs.

James H. Anderson, the acting deputy under secretary of defense for policy, will be taking over Mr. Rood’s duties until a replacement is appointed by the president, the department said.

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Pardon Closes the Book on Milken’s Case but Can’t Rewrite It

Westlake Legal Group 18stewart2-facebookJumbo Pardon Closes the Book on Milken’s Case but Can’t Rewrite It United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Sentences (Criminal) Milken, Michael R Frauds and Swindling Banking and Financial Institutions Amnesties, Commutations and Pardons

By pardoning Michael R. Milken, a potent symbol of the “greed is good” 1980s and arguably the most significant white-collar criminal of his generation, President Trump has sent two powerful messages: When it comes to justice, money counts. And white-collar crime doesn’t really matter.

So much for the rule of law, already under siege by the Trump administration, and the notion that no one, no matter how rich or powerful, is above it.

Lest history be entirely rewritten, it’s worth considering what Judge Kimba M. Wood told Mr. Milken at his sentencing on Nov. 21, 1990, on charges including conspiracy and fraud:

“When a man of your power in the financial world, at the head of the most important department of one of the most important investment banking houses in this country, repeatedly conspires to violate, and violates, securities and tax laws in order to achieve more power and wealth for himself and his wealthy clients, and commits financial crimes that are particularly hard to detect, a significant prison term is required in order to deter others.”

She added that Mr. Milken, who was a senior executive at Drexel Burnham Lambert, had committed “serious crimes warranting serious punishment and the discomfort and opprobrium of being removed from society.”

Mr. Milken, advised by a team of the country’s most experienced and expensive lawyers, pleaded guilty rather than face a trial on even more expansive charges. Contrary to subsequent myth, he was not charged because he championed junk bonds. He was not charged because the savings-and-loan industry all but collapsed (though Mr. Milken’s junk-bond dealings played a direct role in the collapse of some institutions). He was not charged because of the resulting recession, which cost millions of people their jobs. Rather, he was charged so that “our financial markets in which so many people who are not rich invest their savings” can be “free of secret manipulation,” Judge Wood said at his sentencing.

Mr. Milken fainted outside the courtroom after she imposed a 10-year prison term.

Mr. Milken’s transgressions didn’t end with his guilty plea and imprisonment. Released two years into his term after a diagnosis of prostate cancer, he faced a lifetime ban on deal making. That didn’t stop him from negotiating CNN’s $7.5 billion sale to Time Warner in 1996 on behalf of his old friend and client Ted Turner, for which Mr. Milken collected a $50 million fee, and working for another friend and client, the billionaire Ronald O. Perelman. In 1998, Mr. Milken agreed to pay $47 million to settle a Securities and Exchange Commission complaint that he had violated the ban — he neither admitted nor denied the allegations — and the government dropped a criminal investigation into his activities after his release.

Mr. Milken’s wealthy and powerful friends have been clamoring for a pardon for years on his behalf, but the prospect seemed remote until Mr. Trump’s election. Even Bill Clinton, who as president found a justification to pardon the notorious commodities trader and tax evader Marc Rich, balked at granting Mr. Milken a pardon.

Until Mr. Trump’s move was announced Tuesday, I had hoped to have written the last about Mr. Milken. He was a major character in my book “Den of Thieves,” which chronicles the rise and fall of Mr. Milken and his co-conspirator Ivan F. Boesky, the takeover speculator and model for the Gordon Gekko character in the “Wall Street” movies. (As someone who incriminated Mr. Milken and cooperated with the government, Mr. Boesky seems to have little chance of a pardon of his own from Mr. Trump.)

After the book was published in 1991, one of Mr. Milken’s former lawyers, Michael Armstrong, sued me, my research assistant and my publisher, claiming $35 million in damages in a case financed by Mr. Milken and his brother. (We won a resounding victory, albeit after nearly a decade of costly litigation.) I returned to the subject of Mr. Milken in an article for The New Yorker about his post-prison deal making while that case was pending.

But since then, Mr. Milken appears to have focused on nurturing his vast wealth (estimated to be in the billions of dollars even after he paid his $600 million fine) and devoting himself to reputation-enhancing charitable pursuits, ably chronicled by other reporters. The 1998 S.E.C. complaint and the threat of a return to prison seem to have worked, and so far as I’m aware, Mr. Milken has avoided the siren call of deal making for others. He deserves credit for his impressive record of good works.

While none of that warrants a presidential pardon, it’s not hard to fathom why Mr. Milken’s saga would resonate with Mr. Trump.

Like the president, Mr. Milken studied business at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania but was largely shunned by New York’s elite.

Mr. Milken’s early clients were corporate raiders who, like Mr. Trump, were disdained by establishment firms like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. Mr. Milken and his junk-bond-fueled takeovers were seen as disruptive forces, threats to a complacent status quo on Wall Street and in corporate America, just as Mr. Trump has upended Washington.

And of course Mr. Milken underwent years of distracting investigations and related bad publicity. He was even represented for a time by Mr. Trump’s celebrity lawyer Alan Dershowitz (who at one point attacked me in an advertisement in The New York Times). In one of his many startling about-faces, the Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani went from being Mr. Milken’s principal accuser and the architect of his plea deal as U.S. attorney to a Milken champion and advocate for a pardon.

Seen as an underdog, even a very wealthy and well-connected one, Mr. Milken has long inspired a counternarrative that he was a victim of a media and Wall Street establishment jealous of his wealth and success. However unfounded in fact, that version of reality has now gotten a presidential stamp of approval.

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