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President Trump Offers Clemency To Blagojevich, Kerik, Milken, Others


President Trump is doling out forgiveness for a former "Celebrity Apprentice" contestant and multiple other convicted criminals before he heads out west on a campaign tour. The president granted full pardons or commuted sentences for nearly a dozen people. They include former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, Wall Street financier Michael Milken and former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Yes, we have commuted the sentence of Rod Blagojevich. He served eight years in jail. That's a long time. And I watched his wife on television. I don't know him very well. I've met him a couple of times. He was on - for a short while - the "Apprentice" years ago - seemed like a very nice person; don't know him.

KELLY: OK. Here to talk about this is NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez.

Hey, Franco.


KELLY: So Blagojevich - basically, he was serving time for trying to sell an Illinois Senate seat. Why does the president think it's a good idea to commute his sentence?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, it was the seat left open by Barack Obama when he became president. FBI agents actually caught Blagojevich on tape cursing and describing the Senate seat as golden and that he was not going to give it up for nothing. Trump talked about commuting Blagojevich's sentence this summer, saying he thought it was very unfair. Some Republicans advised against this, noting Trump ran against this kind of corruption. Republicans in Illinois called Blagojevich the face of public corruption in the state.

KELLY: Huh, all right; now the president has also pardoned - we mentioned - Kerik and Michael Milken. Why? And why now?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, he gave a full pardon to Bernard Kerik, who is the former New York City police commissioner. Kerik pled guilty to fraud and to lying to the government when he was being vetted for the role of Homeland Security chief back in 2004. As for the reasoning, the president said he relies heavily on recommendations of others to inform his clemency decisions. And Kerik had some strong backers, including Trump's private attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and Fox News personalities Judge Andrew Napolitano and Geraldo Rivera.

Trump also pardoned Michael Milken. He is an investment banker who was convicted of securities fraud. He was known back in the '80s as the junk bond king and was a face of insider trading. But this is what President Trump had to say about Milken today.


TRUMP: Mike Milken, who's gone around and done an incredible job for the world with all of his research on cancer - and he's done this, and he's suffered greatly. He paid a big price, paid a very tough price. But he's done an incredible job.

ORDOÑEZ: Milken also had strong support from people who were important to the president, such as donor Sheldon Adelson and Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao.

KELLY: Now, this will inevitably lead to questions about whether next he might pardon his longtime adviser, Roger Stone, who hasn't even been sentenced yet. But his sentencing has already proven incredibly controversial. Is Stone next?

ORDOÑEZ: It's a great question. That's what a lot of people are asking. And that question was posed to President Trump today. Here's what he said.


TRUMP: We haven't thought about that yet. Right now there's a process. I think Roger Stone's been treated unfairly.

ORDOÑEZ: He's been asked about whether he'd pardon Roger Stone several times before. He has not ruled it out yet. And he repeatedly has described Roger Stone's trial as unfair. And just last week, he called the case a miscarriage of justice.

KELLY: NPR's Franco Ordoñez reporting there from the White House.

Thank you.

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

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.