WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said he will grant a full pardon on Thursday to conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza, who pleaded guilty in 2014 to federal campaign finance law violations.
The announcement drew criticism from some Democrats and legal analysts who said the Republican president had undermined the rule of law with a series of pardons based on political considerations.
“Will be giving a Full Pardon to Dinesh D’Souza today. He was treated very unfairly by our government!” Trump said on Twitter. D’Souza retweeted Trump’s tweet but did not comment otherwise.
D’Souza, 53, admitted in May 2014 that he illegally reimbursed two “straw donors” who donated $10,000 each to the unsuccessful 2012 U.S. Senate campaign in New York of Wendy Long, a Republican he had known since attending Dartmouth College in the early 1980s.
He was sentenced to five years of probation. The government had urged a prison sentence of 10 to 16 months to discourage future abuse of the election process, including by “well-heeled individuals who are tempted to use their money to help other candidates.”
D’Souza waited until “the last possible moment” before trial to admit guilt, the government said, then went on television shows and the internet to say he was “selectively” targeted for prosecution.
In a statement before sentencing, D’Souza said he was ashamed of his actions and contrite.
The case against D’Souza, a critic of Democratic former President Barack Obama, prompted some conservatives to accuse the government of selective prosecution. The prosecutor in the case, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan, was an Obama appointee.
D’Souza was born in Mumbai and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1991. He wrote the bestsellers “The Roots of Obama’s Rage” in 2010 and “America: Imagine a World Without Her” this year, and in 2012 co-directed the film “2016: Obama’s America.”
Bharara, who was fired by Trump three weeks into his presidency, said in a Twitter post: “The President has the right to pardon but the facts are these: D’Souza intentionally broke the law, voluntarily pled guilty, apologized for his conduct & the judge found no unfairness. The career prosecutors and agents did their job.”
Trump has pardoned other notable conservatives convicted of various offenses. Last August, he pardoned former Arizona lawman and political ally Joe Arpaio less than a month after he was convicted of criminal contempt in a case involving racial profiling of Hispanics.
Arpaio, the self-proclaimed “toughest sheriff in America,” was known for his crackdown on illegal immigrants in Arizona’s Maricopa County. He also investigated unfounded claims, supported by Trump, questioning Obama’s citizenship.
In April, Trump pardoned Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who was chief of staff to former Vice President Dick Cheney and was convicted in 2007 of lying in an investigation into the unmasking of a CIA agent. Conservative Republicans had sought a pardon for Libby for years after Cheney was unable to persuade Republican President George W. Bush to grant one.
Both cases prompted critics to accuse Trump of abusing his pardoning power.
“As with the pardon of Joe Arpaio, Trump is sending a message that he will reward political allies for loyalty with get-out-of-jail-free cards,” Democratic U.S. Representative Don Beyer said on Twitter. “He doesn’t care about the rule of law.”
Susan Hennessey, managing editor of the Brookings Institution Lawfare blog, said Trump was using the pardon power to “dole out transactional favors.”
“Allowing Trump to engage in such flagrant open abuse of his constitutional powers without consequences will have far more damaging ramifications,” she said.
Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Additional reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by David Gregorio and Jeffrey Benkoe