In the Wild West of modern campaign finance law, one of the biggest remaining infractions is to make “straw” donations — to hide contributions to a candidate by making them in other people’s names. Typically, the practice is employed to exceed federal limits on campaign giving. That’s what D’Souza, a politically sophisticated Ivy Leaguer, pleaded guilty to doing.
It’s noteworthy that Trump, who boasted on the campaign trail that he could clean up Washington because he knew all the tricks of the trade in using contributions to influence public policy, doesn’t think that campaign finance violations are serious breaches of the law.
In discussing Blagojevich, who tried to sell his power to appoint a senator to succeed newly elected President Barack Obama, Trump said what he did was politics, not crime.
In particular, Trump pointed to a key piece of evidence against Blagojevich, a recording of him asking what he could get in return for an appointment.
“Plenty of other politicians have said a lot worse,” Trump said. “He shouldn’t have been put in jail.”
And like Trump, Blagojevich argues that he’s a victim of federal prosecutors run amok.
“Under the legal arguments that prosecutors used to convict me, all fundraising can be viewed as bribery,” he wrote in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that was widely viewed as a personal appeal to Trump for clemency.
On Thursday, New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood released a statement pleading with state lawmakers to close a “loophole” in state law that could prevent the state-level prosecution of anyone Trump pardons.
“President Trump’s latest pardon makes crystal clear his willingness to use his pardon power to thwart the cause of justice, rather than advance it,” she said. “First it was Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Then it was Scooter Libby. Now it’s Dinesh D’Souza. We can’t afford to wait to see who will be next.”
While past presidents have often given leniency to celebrities and political allies, few have shown such a penchant for it as Trump.
Having just freed themselves from a monarchy in which the rule of law could be bent to the will of the king, America’s Founding Fathers wrestled mightily with whether the power of the pardon should be granted to a single executive who might be able to reward friends who had broken the law — perhaps in service of him.
In the anti-Federalist papers, a writer who went by the pen name Cato argued that the consolidation of powers within the presidency, including the sole authority to grant pardons, could “tend either to the establishment of a vile and arbitrary aristocracy, or monarchy?”
But it was the Federalists, concerned about mob rule and the possibility of political imprisonment, who won out. They contended that “one man appears to be a more eligible dispenser of the mercy of government than a body of men.”
Right now, that one man is Trump.