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The president issued pardons for more than two dozen people late Wednesday

By Virginia Chamlee
December 24, 2020 10:29 AM
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charles kushner, donald trump
Charles Kushner (left), Donald Trump
| Credit: Getty Images (2)

Just two days before Christmas, President Donald Trump gave some of his closest allies a gift to remember, issuing 29 pardons or commutations to people convicted of crimes including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, longtime loyalist Roger Stone, and Jared Kushner's dad.

The pardons of Manafort and Stone, while controversial due to their crimes, weren't entirely unexpected (both men have reportedly expressed confidence in receiving a commuted sentence either publicly or privately).

The announcement that Charles Kushner — the father of Trump's son-in-law, Jared — would also have his sentence commuted was not a shock, either.

Still, the move was notable in that the elder Kushner has previously said he “would prefer not to have a pardon," due to the publicly that would inevitably follow.

As predicted, Kushner's pardon has re-surfaced the sordid actions that put him in jail in the first place.

Kushner was a multimillionaire real estate executive and top Democratic donor when he was sentenced in 2005 to two years in federal prison after he pleaded guilty to 18 counts, including tax evasion and making illegal campaign contributions.

Once Kushner discovered his brother-in-law and former business partner was assisting federal authorities in their investigation, he set out for revenge (and, as prosecutors would argue, witness intimidation).

The wealthy New York real estate magnate hired a prostitute to seduce his brother-in-law in a New Jersey motel, arranging to have the encounter recorded with a hidden camera.

Then, he showed the video to his brother-in-law's wife: Kushner's sister.

Adding an interesting twist to the saga is that Kushner's prosecution was overseen by then-U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, who would go on to become a prominent Trump surrogate and the head of his transition team.

Christie's history with the Kushner family would loom large over his time with the Trump team. In 2016, he was ousted from the campaign, and many blamed Jared Kushner for his firing.Still, Christie has continually defended his decision to prosecute Charles Kushner, even writing a book centered in part on the saga: Let Me Finish: Trump, the Kushners, Bannon, New Jersey, and the Power of In-Your-Face Politics.

“Mr. Kushner pled guilty. He admitted the crimes,” Christie told PBS in a 2019 interview. “And so what am I supposed to do as a prosecutor? I mean, if a guy hires a prostitute to seduce his brother-in-law, and videotapes it, and then sends the videotape to his sister to attempt to intimidate her from testifying before a grand jury, do I really need any more justification than that?"

Christie continued: "I mean, it's one of the most loathsome, disgusting crimes that I prosecuted. And I was U.S. attorney in New Jersey, so we had some loathsome and disgusting crime going on there."

According to a press release announcing his guilty plea, Kushner admitted that he "devised a scheme to retaliate against a cooperating witness and her husband by having a prostitute seduce the husband and covertly filming them having sex."

As the release explained, "Kushner told the Court that he paid a private investigator $25,000 to arrange for the seduction and videotaping of the cooperating witness' husband. Kushner admitted to personally recruiting the prostitute and instructing that the videotape be mailed to the cooperating witness."

Kushner also pleaded guilty to 16 counts of assisting in the filing of false tax returns and one count of making false statements to the Federal Election Commission.

Kushner's son Jared is married to Trump's daughter, Ivanka, and serves as a senior adviser to the president.

That familial relationship wasn't mentioned in the White House's Wednesday statement regarding the pardons, which suggested Kushner's clemency was the result of his philanthropic work.

"Since completing his sentence in 2006, Mr. Kushner has been devoted to important philanthropic organizations and causes, such as Saint Barnabas Medical Center and United Cerebral Palsy," the statement read. "This record of reform and charity overshadows Mr. Kushner’s conviction and 2 year sentence for preparing false tax returns, witness retaliation, and making false statements to the FEC."

Critics, however, blasted Trump's Wednesday pardoning spree, with Republican Sen. Ben Sasse calling it "rotten to the core."

Political consultant David Axelrod described the pardons as unsurprising, and yet still "appalling," warning that more are likely before Trump leaves office in January.

"Everyone saw this raw sewage dump of pardons and commutations for @realDonaldTrump apparatchiks and loyalists coming," Axelrod tweeted upon news of the pardons. "It’s the least surprising news. Yet the spectacle is still appalling. And it’s not over!"