President Donald Trump told various members of the media that he is considering issuing pardons to Martha Stewart and Rod Blagojevich in an off-camera media session aboard Air Force One on Thursday. The news came hours after Trump announced a full pardon for conservative political pundit Dinesh D’Souza via the president’s Twitter account.
Even the most casual television viewers and pop culture participants will recall Stewart’s and Blagojevich’s ties to the president through NBC’s The Apprentice. But upon closer inspection, these proposed pardons have little to do with favors among former reality television stars.
Take Stewart’s pardon, for instance. Apprentice fans with longer memories will recall Trump’s very vocal, public complaints about Stewart as an Apprentice host, to whom he even wrote an open letter calling her a liar. “My great loyalty to you has gone totally unappreciated,” he wrote in closing.
Most think that Stewart was found guilty of insider trading in 2004, but she was actually charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice and lying to the FBI, felonies that are central to the ongoing Mueller investigation. (Also noteworthy: James Comey oversaw the Martha Stewart investigation.) Stewart spent five months in prison and five months under house arrest for her crimes and has emerged every bit as successful as before she was incarcerated — so a pardon would do her little good now.
Blagojevich, by contrast, is currently serving a 14-year prison sentence after having been found guilty in 2011 on public corruption charges. After his fall from grace, but before being jailed, the former Democratic Illinois governor always seemed to have been in Trump’s good graces. Even when he was fired on The Apprentice, it was in near-glowing terms:
But the backstory to Blagojevich’s conviction is one that echoes through the darker hallways of the Trump administration. Blagojevich was convicted of corruption for attempting to sell President Obama’s vacant Illinois Senate seat for political favors, a crime that Trump has long felt was undeserving of such a lengthy sentence, as he tweeted in 2012:
Experts point out it’s noteworthy Trump is bringing up a Democrat’s past ‘pay to play’ conviction in 2018, when allegations that the president’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, may cause the former Trump Organization ‘fixer’ to ‘flip’ by offering evidence or testimony of corruption against his former boss. Also, then-U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, a longtime friend of Comey, prosecuted the case. Fitzgerald is now one of Comey’s personal attorneys, reports Talking Points Memo.
And then there is D’Souza, who was announced as being pardoned on Thursday. According to Preet Bharara, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York who prosecuted the case, “Dinesh D’Souza attempted to illegally contribute over $10,000 to a Senate campaign, willfully undermining the integrity of the campaign finance process.” Bharara was fired suddenly by Trump in March 2017, and he has gone on to be a vocal critic of the president. Also, illegal campaign finance contributions arenot only at the crux of the Stormy Daniels case, but also possibly the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Though news of these pardons (two potential, one actual) hit on the same day, they also line up with last month’s sudden, controversial pardon by President Trump of Scooter Libby, former vice president Dick Cheney’s chief of staff who was convicted of perjury, lying to the FBI, and obstruction of justice in 2007. Fitzgerald, appointed by Comey, served as the special counsel who investigated Libby’s case.
Of course, there is the chance that Trump’s proposed and actual pardons could all be just a coincidence — or, more accurately, a series of four wild coincidences. Or then again, maybe there’s a message to his madness.