Trump pardons Dinesh D’Souza, sends message to allies under legal scrutiny

Government ethics advocates slammed the move, which comes as former Trump aides consider how to deal with special prosecutor investigation.

Dinesh D'Souza at a 2014 film premiere.
Dinesh D'Souza at a 2014 film premiere. CREDIT: Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images

Donald Trump announced he will pardon conservative activist Dinesh D’Souza on Thursday, erasing his political ally’s May 2014 guilty plea to a campaign finance felony. The unexpected move comes a day after meeting with Kim Kardashian to discuss the importance of “prison reform and sentencing” and as several former Trump employees mull how to deal with their own legal issues stemming from Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

Trump made the announcement via a Thursday morning tweet, once again bypassing the longstanding process of vetting pardons and commutation petitions. The president’s only justification for the “full pardon” was his claim that D’Souza was somehow treated “unfairly.” In reality, he admitted to circumventing federal campaign finance limits by reimbursing associates for $20,000 worth of contributions made in their own names to Republican Wendy Long’s unsuccessful 2012 U.S. Senate campaign in New York — a felony.

Like Trump, D’Souza earned his political fame and conservative bona fides by questioning the Americanness of Barack Obama. He is currently promoting a book which purportedly exposes “the Nazi roots of the American left.”

Cover of Dinesh D'Souza's latest book, "The Big Lie"
Cover of Dinesh D'Souza's latest book, "The Big Lie"

D’Souza marked the fourth living person to receive a pardon or commutation from Trump so far, joining fellow birther and political ally Joe Arpaio, convicted Justice-obstructer I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, and former Navy sailor Kristian Saucier. Each has had distinctly political undertones.

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An array of government ethics and legal experts were quick to point out that the Dinesh pardon and others appear to be a signal to former employees that he will protect them from punishment if they protect him from Mueller’s investigation. Trump tweeted on Sunday of his concern for the “young and beautiful lives (and others) that have been devastated and destroyed by the phony Russia Collusion Witch Hunt.”

As a candidate, Trump famously vowed to “drain the swamp,” warning: “When the outcome is fixed, when the system is rigged, people lose hope. They detach. Our society becomes unplugged and unhinged. When the powerful can get away with anything, because they have the money and the connections to rig the system, then the laws lose their moral authority.”