Feb 19, 2020

Trump goes on a pardoning spree.

Trump goes on a pardoning spree.

Plus, a question about Bloomberg vs. Sanders.

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Today’s read: 7 minutes.

Trump unleashes his pardon power, a question about Bloomberg vs. Bernie and a very upsetting story from The New York Times.

Mugshot of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who Trump granted clemency to yesterday. Photo: United States Marshals Service


Tonight is another Democratic debate — and probably the most important yet. Mike Bloomberg will take the stage for the first time as some polls show him in second place behind Bernie Sanders. Nevada will caucus on Friday in an important gauge of how the Democratic candidates will do in a state that has a large bloc of non-white voters. You can watch the debate starting at 9 p.m. EST on NBC. Here’s a preview of some attacks Bloomberg might see on the stage:

What D.C. is talking about.

Donald Trump’s pardons and commutations. Yesterday, he unloaded a series of get out of jail free cards. Some were pardons (wiping someone’s record clean of a federal crime) and others were commutations (ending someone’s jail time prematurely). Trump, as president, has the power to pardon or commute anyone convicted of a federal crime. Most notably, he used that power to commute the sentence Rod Blagojevich, the former Democratic Governor from Illinois who tried to sell away Barack Obama’s empty Senate seat after he ran for president. Blagojevich was released from prison on Tuesday. He pardoned Bernard Kerik, the former NYPD commissioner who plead guilty to tax fraud and lying to the government. He pardoned financier Michael Milken, the “junk bond king” of the 1980s, who helped contribute to the collapse of the savings-and-loan industry. He also pardoned Edward Debartolo Jr., the former owner of the San Francisco 49ers who had to pay a $1 million fine for gambling fraud. Paul Pogue, who owned a construction company and underpaid his taxes, was also pardoned. David Safavian, a top official at the General Services Administration and Office of Management and Budget during the Bush administration, was also pardoned. He was serving time in federal prison for lying about his dealings with Jack Abramoff, who became famous for a lobbying scandal.

It wasn’t just white-collar crime committed by white men, though. Trump also commuted the sentences of Tynice Nichole Hall and Crystal Munoz, who were both serving time in jail for drug offenses. Judith Negron, who defrauded the federal government while running a health care company and was serving a 35-year sentence in prison, was also granted clemency. Angela Stanton was part of a stolen vehicle ring and served 6-month home confinement; she was also pardoned.

What the left is saying.

The president of “law and order” doesn’t really seem to care about law and order when it’s corruption and old white men. Sen. Chris Van Hollen said the pardons show Trump is “totally unleashed” after he “got out of the impeachment trial,” calling him the “ultimate swamp monster.” Bernie Sanders echoed a similar sentiment: “Today, Trump granted clemency to tax cheats, Wall Street crooks, billionaires and corrupt government officials,” he said. “Meanwhile, thousands of poor and working-class kids sit in jail for nonviolent drug convictions. This is what a broken and racist criminal justice system looks like.” Many took it as a sign Trump was signaling to his allies that he will cover for them if they commit federal crimes on his behalf. Renato Mariotti, a CNN legal analyst and former prosecutor, noted on Twitter that something smelled funny. Scooter Libby, Conrad Black and Rod Blagojevich were all prosecuted by James Comey — the FBI Director who drew Trump’s ire. Now all three have been pardoned by Trump. Sam Stein, The Daily Beast reporter, noted how nearly all of the people who received pardons and clemency had lobbied for help through appearances on Fox News, the president’s favorite TV channel. One, though, never got the Fox News bump: Paul Pogue. Instead, Stein pointed out FEC filings showing Pogue’s son Ben contributed over $200,000 to the Trump campaign while lobbying for his father’s release.

What the right is saying.

The media is having a big freak out over a bunch of white-collar criminals while Democrats push for open borders, the release of drug dealers and undocumented immigrant criminals. Trump is pardoning people with families who have already paid their debt to society and worked to better themselves since. Not only that, but the president has actually used his pardon power sparingly — especially compared to Barack Obama. “The media is attacking Trump for his pardons, I guess they forgot about Obama pardoning Chelsea Manning, who leaked top-secret information to WikiLeaks,” pro-Trump writer Ryan Fournier tweeted. “Or Oscar Lopez Rivera, who led a Chicago-based terrorist cell responsible for hundreds of bombings. Where was the outrage?” Obama issued 212 pardons and 1,715 commutations, according to Justice Department data. Trump has issued 18 pardons and six commutations. Some on the right, though, weren’t so pleased. The Illinois Republican party was infuriated by the commutation of Blagojevich, with five Republicans who represent Illinois in the House of Representatives issuing a statement saying Blagojevich “is the face of public corruption in Illinois, and not once has he shown any remorse for his clear and documented record of egregious crimes that undermined the trust placed in him by voters.”

My take.

It’s fine. What doesn’t bother me: I’m happy to see the commutations. The difference between Blagojevich serving eight years in prison or 14 years in prison makes absolutely no difference in my world. In fact, I think it’s better that we have fewer people in prison and I think the sentence was egregiously long. The same goes for Judith Negron, a 48-year-old mom who served eight years in prison and was supposed to spend another 27 years there. Crystal Munoz did 12 years behind bars for a “marijuana smuggling ring” — why keep her in jail? I say this as someone who is still unsure about the prospect of totally legalizing marijuana: we should not be throwing people in jail for selling pot. Tynice Nichole Hall served 14 years of an 18-year sentence for using her apartment to distribute drugs and has since gotten a degree and finished a job-training program behind bars. Good. I’m glad she’s out!

I’m also unbothered by all but one of the pardons: Bernard Kerik. The former NYPD commissioner is an egregiously crappy pardon to make. He’s been pleading his case on Fox News regularly, which — by the way — is a frightening and dystopian thing to be happening. Regardless, the night before he was pardoned, Kerik was on Tucker Carlson’s show railing against bail reform in New York and calling for harsher punishments for criminals, saying the NYPD had better control over crime when they were arresting people for jumping turnstiles and other misdemeanors. That’s just gross from a guy pleading for a pardon after he lied to officials and committed tax fraud. He’s also been calling for the arrest of Nancy Pelosi on national television and screaming belligerently about the “deep state.”

As for the comparison of pardons between Obama and Trump — that’s a bit out of context. Presidential pardons and commutations traditionally come at the end of a president’s term, which is the reason for the discrepancy. Obama only issued 22 pardons in his first 4 years in office. Trump has issued 18 with eight more months to go — so they’re actually still quite on par. Obama did, however, take the historic step of exiting office by issuing thousands of commutations for people serving lengthy (or lifetime) sentences for drug crimes that were convicted during the height of the war on drugs. And just like I said at the top here — I thought that was a good thing then and it’s a good thing now.

Drop out!

Yesterday, several polling outfits — including FiveThirtyEight — released projections for Super Tuesday showing that Bernie Sanders could lock down the Democratic nomination with a majority of delegates after voting concludes, all but ending the race for the nomination far sooner than most people expected. Responding tot he polls, Mike Bloomberg’s campaign sounded the alarm about the “dire circumstances” and insisted other candidates — including Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar — drop out of the race to pave the way for Bloomberg, who has risen in the polls. It’s an unprecedented and unusual plea from a candidate who is yet to win a single delegate in the race. Click.

Your questions, answered.

Asking a question is simple. All you have to do is respond to this email and write in. Try it!

Q: I'm wondering what your take is on Sanders and Bloomberg being the frontrunners for the Democratic party. Coming into the 2020 elections, it felt like even though Democrats definitely had preferences within the party, there was solidarity in an "anyone but Trump" mentality where at the end of the day, people would vote for whichever Democrat got the nomination. But it seems like Sanders and Bloomberg as the frontrunners are the one specific instance where people actually will refuse to vote for one or the other (anti-Sanders team because of an aversion to communism, anti-Bloomberg team for the many list of historical reasons that have already been covered), almost guaranteeing a win for Trump in my mind. Do you think this is a coincidence? Do you think it's a result of the Democratic leadership almost acting as "never-Sanders" and doing whatever they can to prevent that?

- Michelle, New York, NY

Tangle: Someone asked me last night who I thought had a better shot to beat Trump: Sanders or Bloomberg. It’s a really interesting question, but I generally subscribe to the philosophy that was laid out by Rachel Bitecofer in our conversation last week. The only way Democrats lose is if the party is fractured — and it seems like the chances of that are a lot higher if Bloomberg is the nominee. As much as moderate Democrats view Sanders as “radical,” they would all still vote for him if he were the nominee. Most Democrats understand that Sanders’ positions will be moderated by Congress and the judicial branch and therefore they’d rather have him in office than Trump by a long shot. On the other hand, plenty of far-left liberals don’t see a big difference between Trump and Bloomberg. This was summed up nicely in an article from The Week titled “Mike Bloomberg is not the lesser of two evils.”  All that being said: I think your general assessment that Bloomberg vs. Sanders is the only scenario where people will actually refuse to vote for one or the other is just half true. The only people supporting Bloomberg that would not vote Sanders over Trump are Republicans or independents, based on my interactions. And Democrats don’t need either to beat Trump in 2020.

To answer you more directly: I do think it’s a coincidence. I know it’s easy to be conspiratorial about everything given the last few years, but Bloomberg vs. Sanders is the last thing the Democratic establishment wants. It’s really a lose-lose for them: either they accept Bloomberg, a billionaire old white guy who just bought his way into the election while the party rails against money in politics; or accept Sanders, a self-avowed socialist who rails against the Democratic party every chance he gets.

You are right, though, that there’s a distinction in the support the party has shown for Sanders vs. Bloomberg. My research assistant Cameron dug into some numbers for me and came out with some pretty interesting stuff. Generally speaking, the party seems to favor Bloomberg quite a bit.

FiveThirtyEight is tracking endorsements of candidates by weighing them with points (i.e. a presidential endorsement is worth 10 points, a Governor endorsement is worth 8, national party leaders are worth 5, etc). So far, Bloomberg has 90 points on the endorsement scale to Bernie Sanders’ 60 points. Joe Biden (261 points) and Elizabeth Warren (91) points lead all candidates — but Bloomberg is already in third. Bloomberg also has a greater spread than Sanders does across the kinds of officials endorsing him. Part of that, though, undeniably has to do with the money Bloomberg is throwing around. Consider this:

  • $2.2 million to Haley Stevens, D-MI (endorsed Bloomberg)
  • $4.4 million to Lucy McBath (via Everytown Gun Safety), D-GA (endorsed Bloomberg)
  • $2.2 million to Mikie Sherrill D-NJ (endorsed Bloomberg)
  • $4.5 million to Rep. Harley Rouda, D-CA (endorsed Bloomberg)
  • $10 million to pro-House Democratic group House Majority PAC
  • $5 million to the new Stacey Abrams-linked group, Fair Fight (Abrams defended Bloomberg on The View yesterday while also saying she was open to a VP position)
  • $800,000 to the Democratic Grassroots Victory Fund, a Democratic National Committee-linked fundraising vehicle, more than $300,000 of which went to the DNC directly. (Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada received thousands.)

It was also easy to find some anti-Sanders messaging from the Democratic heavy hitters. Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA), Rep Tom Malinowski (D-NJ), Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA), former Gov. Ed Rendell, Dina Titus (D-NV), have all publicly expressed varying degrees of concern that if Bernie were the nominee Democrats would get crushed. The data, though, doesn’t really do those claims justice. Bloomberg and Sanders fair pretty equally against Trump in a general election, which again makes me think the only risk for Democrats is fracturing the party.

All in all, I think Sanders has a better shot vs. Trump then Bloomberg because of the potential for some Sanders voters to blow the election off or cast a protest ballot. I think Sanders and Bloomberg would both be favorites to beat Trump. And I think the Democratic establishment would definitely prefer Bloomberg win the nomination over Sanders.

A story that matters.

In today’s episode of The Daily podcast, The New York Times opens the book on the horrifying, nauseating story of child sex abuse imagery (note: not child pornography) that is easily accessible on non-Google search engines. Last year, tech companies reported over 60 million online photos and videos of children being sexually abused. Lawmakers have tried to stop the problem but the Times investigation shows a surge of online videos and images are popping up thanks to encrypted social messaging apps where users can share images under a “cloak of secrecy.” Annual funding to address the problem has also fallen short while the Justice Department has dropped the ball on annual reports addressing the federal government’s response. You can read about this horrific story here or listen to the podcast here.


  • 53%. Percentage of registered voters who are “very uncomfortable with” or “have reservations” about a candidate who is over the age of 75.
  • 41%. Percentage of registered voters who are “very uncomfortable with” or “have reservations” about a candidate who self-funds with hundreds of millions of dollars.
  • 57%. Percentage of registered voters who are “very uncomfortable with” or “have reservations” about a candidate who had a heart attack in the past year.
  • 67%. Percentage of registered voters who are “very uncomfortable with” or “have reservations” about a candidate who is a socialist.
  • 14%. Percentage of registered voters who are “very uncomfortable with” or “have reservations” about a candidate who is a woman.
  • 32%. Percentage of likely California Democratic voters who plan to cast a ballot for Bernie Sanders, best of any Democrat.
  • 14%. Percentage of likely California Democratic voters who plan to cast a ballot for Joe Biden, second-best of any Democrat.

Have a nice day.

Philadelphia’s Free Public Library has joined several other cities by changing its policies to no longer punish people financially for overdue books. Right now, if someone has a book that’s out past its return date, they incur a 25 cent fee for every day it’s late. When the late fees hit $5, a person was shut out from the library. Now, though, they can start using the library again so long as they bring the overdue items back. The Philadelphia library expects to lose $424,000 in annual revenue from the change, but it thinks it will make up for it by welcoming back some 88,000 cardholders who are avoiding the library because they can’t pay their fees. Click.

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