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February 25, 2021
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Trump grants clemency to 143 people in final hours

WASHINGTON DC, USA: In the final hours of his presidency, Donald Trump has pardoned 73 people, including his former adviser Steve Bannon, who is facing fraud charges.

Another 70 people had sentences commuted, ahead of Joe Biden’s inauguration at noon (17:00 GMT).

Rapper Lil Wayne received a pardon and there were commutations for rapper Kodak Black and former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

The president has not issued pre-emptive pardons for himself or family members.

He can still issue more pardons on Wednesday morning, as he remains president until Mr Biden takes the oath of office outside the US Capitol.

A statement from the White House listed the 73 individuals who had received pardons and the 70 who had their sentences commuted.

Although many on the list are conventional examples of convicts whose cases have been championed by rights activists and supporters in the community, others maintain the president’s trend of focusing on allies.

Steve Bannon was a key strategist and adviser to President Trump during his 2016 campaign. He was charged in August last year with fraud over a fundraising campaign to build a wall on the US-Mexico border to stem illegal immigration, a key plank of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Prosecutors said Bannon and three others defrauded hundreds of thousands of donors in connection with the “We Build the Wall” campaign, which pledged to use donations to build segments of the barrier and raised $25 million. It was alleged Bannon received more than $1 million, at least some of which he used to cover personal expenses. He denied the claims.

As he was yet to stand trial his pardon is unusual, though certainly not unprecedented.

The White House statement said Bannon had been “an important leader in the conservative movement and is known for his political acumen”. It said prosecutors had “pursued” him with charges “related to fraud stemming from his involvement in a political project”.

A full pardon was also issued to Elliott Broidy, a Republican fundraiser who admitted accepting funds to lobby Trump for Chinese and Malaysian interests. The White House cited his “philanthropic efforts”. Ken Kurson, a friend of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner charged with cyberstalking during a divorce, was pardoned.

Lil Wayne, whose real name is Dwayne Carter, pleaded guilty to a federal weapons charge last year and has been pardoned. He posted a photo of himself with Trump during the election campaign praising the president’s work on criminal reform.

As the list of pardons became clear, Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff said: “Thank God we have only 12 more hours of this den of thieves.”

Other key recipients were:

Kodak Black, real name Bill K Kapri, who was also charged with firearms offences, had his sentence of three years and 10 months commuted. The White House statement praised his philanthropic work.

Michael ‘Harry O’ Harris – co-founder of Death Row Records, who served 32 years for attempted murder and cocaine trafficking and whose case was championed by rapper Snoop Dogg. He was pardoned.

Kwame Kilpatrick was sentenced in 2013 to 28 years in prison on charges of racketeering, bribery and extortion in relation to his period as Detroit mayor from 2002 to 2008. His sentence was commuted – the White House said this was “strongly supported by prominent members of the Detroit community”.

Anthony Levandowski received a full pardon from an 18-month sentence. He is a former Google engineer who admitted stealing secret technology related to the company’s self-driving cars. The pardon says he had “paid a significant price for his actions and plans to devote his talents to advance the public good”

However, a number of people whose names had been promoted in the media for possible pardons – including Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, and Joe Exotic, the star of the Netflix documentary Tiger King – have not been included.

How and why is clemency issued?

It is common for outgoing presidents to issue pardons before they leave the White House.

Alexander Hamilton proposed the system in 1787, arguing it could “restore the tranquillity of the commonwealth”. It is carried in Article II of the Constitution.

The president can only act on federal, not state, crimes. A pardon cancels a criminal conviction, while a commutation shortens or ends a prison sentence.

Pardons have been controversial since they started. In the early years of the US, some acts of treason, piracy and rebellion were forgiven.

One man convicted of stealing mail refused a pardon in 1833 and he was executed after the Supreme Court ruled he could turn it down.

In latter days, Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon for all offences he may have committed, and Jimmy Carter pardoned most who had evaded the Vietnam War draft – both examples of pre-emptive pardons.