By Doina Chiacu and Steve Holland
WASHINGTON/ON AIR FORCE ONE (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Thursday granted a pardon to conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza, who pleaded guilty in 2014 to U.S. campaign finance law violations, and said he was considering pardoning lifestyle maven Martha Stewart.
After earlier tweeting his decision on D’Souza, Trump told reporters on a flight to Houston that was also weighing a pardon for Stewart, who was convicted in 2004 on charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and making false statements related to a probe of alleged insider trading.
James Comey, who Trump fired as FBI director last year and has repeatedly attacked, served as the lead federal prosecutor in Stewart’s case.
Trump also said he might commute former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s 14-year prison sentence, saying “what he did does not justify” the time he was ordered to serve. Blagojevich remains incarcerated.
Blagojevich’s was convicted of corruption offenses including soliciting bribes for appointment to the Senate seat that former Democratic president Barack Obama vacated after being elected president in 2008. Blagojevich, a Democrat, was a former contestant on Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” reality TV show.
Trump was an executive producer on a TV spinoff of his own program called “Martha Stewart: The Apprentice” starring Stewart.
Trump also told reporters he might pardon a woman serving a federal prison sentence over a drug-related charge after reality television star Kim Kardashian discussed the case with him at the White House on Wednesday.
The announcement on D’Souza drew criticism from some Democrats and legal analysts who said the Republican president had undermined the rule of law with a series of pardons based on political considerations.
On Twitter, Trump wrote that D’Souza “was treated very unfairly by our government!”
D’Souza, 53, admitted in 2014 that he illegally reimbursed two “straw donors” who donated $10,000 each to the unsuccessful 2012 U.S. Senate campaign in New York of Wendy Long, a Republican he had known since attending Dartmouth College in the early 1980s.
He was sentenced to five years of probation. Prosecutors had urged a prison sentence of 10 to 16 months to discourage future abuse of the election process, including by “well-heeled individuals who are tempted to use their money to help other candidates.”
D’Souza waited until “the last possible moment” before trial to admit guilt, the government said, then went on television shows and the internet to say he was “selectively” targeted for prosecution.
In a statement before sentencing, D’Souza said he was ashamed of his actions and contrite.
The case against D’Souza, a critic of Democratic former President Barack Obama, prompted some conservatives to accuse the government of selective prosecution. The prosecutor in the case, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan, was an Obama appointee.
Bharara, who was fired by Trump last year, tweeted: “The President has the right to pardon but the facts are these: D’Souza intentionally broke the law, voluntarily pled guilty, apologized for his conduct & the judge found no unfairness. The career prosecutors and agents did their job.”
Trump has pardoned other notable conservatives convicted of various offenses. Last August, he pardoned former Arizona lawman and political ally Joe Arpaio less than a month after he was convicted of criminal contempt in a case involving racial profiling of Hispanics.
Arpaio, the self-proclaimed “toughest sheriff in America,” was known for his crackdown on illegal immigrants in Arizona’s Maricopa County. He also investigated unfounded claims, supported by Trump, questioning Obama’s citizenship.
In April, Trump pardoned Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who was chief of staff to former Vice President Dick Cheney and was convicted in 2007 of lying in an investigation into the unmasking of a CIA agent.
Both cases prompted critics to accuse Trump of abusing his pardoning power.
“As with the pardon of Joe Arpaio, Trump is sending a message that he will reward political allies for loyalty with get-out-of-jail-free cards,” Democratic U.S. Representative Don Beyer said on Twitter. “He doesn’t care about the rule of law.”
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Additional reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by David Gregorio and Jeffrey Benkoe)