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Trump Plans To Issue 20 Pardons And Commutations Before Christmas

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Trump has announced 20 people he intends to offer clemency to leading into the Christmas holiday. The pardons and commutations include Republican former members of Congress and people who committed crimes linked to the Russia probe. NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe is here with the details.

Hi, Ayesha.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Hello.

SHAPIRO: This is a pretty long list. Which names jump out to you first?

RASCOE: Well, there are three former Congress members on this list - Duncan Hunter of California, who was convicted of misusing campaign funds, Chris Collins of New York, who pled guilty to securities fraud, and Steve Stockman of Texas, who was convicted of misuse of charitable funds. You may remember Duncan Hunter and Chris Collins. The president talked about them a lot when they were going through their process or being prosecuted because he said that Republicans were being singled out. Of course, he said that without evidence.

SHAPIRO: There are also some names here of people who are connected to the Russia investigation. Tell us about them.

RASCOE: Some names that people may remember; George Papadopoulos, Alex van der Zwaan. These were some - George Papadopoulos was, you know, a campaign adviser, a lower level, but they were convicted of making false statements during the special counsel probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election. And so they were both granted - or had their commuted - their sentences pardoned.

SHAPIRO: I want to acknowledge that while you're an incredibly professional working parent, there are children behind you. And it is dinner time, so we appreciate your talking about this breaking story with us (laughter). Tell us about the other names on this list, people who we may be less familiar with.

RASCOE: Yeah, there were some people who have political ties. Trump pardoned four security contractors who were involved in the killing of Iraqi civilians. And there are two Border Patrol agents who shot a man who had crossed the border with marijuana and fled arrest. And so the agents had previously had their sentences commuted by former President George W. Bush, but now they've gotten a pardon. There was some normal people. There was an 89-year-old man who had pled guilty to making moonshine in 1952. He got a pardon - a Pittsburgh dentist who had pled guilty to fraud on false billing. And there were some people who had their supervised release. They had already had their sentences commuted for drug offenses, but now they have their supervised release commuted.

SHAPIRO: You know, Ayesha, it's not unusual for presidents to offer commutations and pardons around Christmastime. But how unusual is it for the list of names to be people who are such lightning rods?

RASCOE: You know, it's more usual for that to happen at the very end of a president's term, which President Trump is coming to the end of his term. But President Trump has not shied away from doing these kind of politically charged commutations. Even early on in his administration, you might remember, he pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona. That was very controversial, so he's done this throughout his time - and obviously, Roger Stone and others. And clemency advocates are asking...

SHAPIRO: Michael Flynn, his first national security adviser, too - yeah.

RASCOE: Yes, absolutely, Michael Flynn. So - but clemency advocates are pressing for Trump to act on more of those less - lower-profile cases of people who have very long sentences for committing drug offenses.

SHAPIRO: More pardons to come. He's still got a month left in office.

RASCOE: Yes, that's what the expectation is. But we'll see.

SHAPIRO: That is NPR's Ayesha Rascoe on a wave of 20 pardons issued by President Trump tonight, including three Republican former members of Congress and some people who are associated with the Mueller investigation.

Ayesha, thank you very much.

RASCOE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.

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