Kwame Kilpatrick among long list of Trump commutations, pardons on last day

Trump pardons 73 individuals, commutes sentences of 70 others right before leaving office

A look into ex-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's career
A look into ex-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's career

Former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was just seven years into a 28-year federal prison sentence when President Trump decided to allow him to walk free Tuesday night.

It was Trump’s final night in the White House before he leaves Wednesday to make way for President-elect Joe Biden and his new administration.

Here’s the statement from the White House:

“President Trump commuted the sentence of the former Mayor of Detroit, Kwame Malik Kilpatrick. This commutation is strongly supported by prominent members of the Detroit community, Alveda King, Alice Johnson, Diamond and Silk, Pastor Paula White, Peter Karmanos, Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo of the Michigan House of Representatives, Rep. Karen Whitsett of the Michigan House of Representatives, and more than 30 faith leaders. Mr. Kilpatrick has served approximately 7 years in prison for his role in a racketeering and bribery scheme while he held public office. During his incarceration, Mr. Kilpatrick has taught public speaking classes and has led Bible Study groups with his fellow inmates.”

Trump White House

A commutation simply reduces the sentence of a prisoner, whereas a pardon wipes away the crime.

Michigan State Rep. Karen Whitsett (D-9th District) said she spoke with Trump on the phone and had known for days that the commutation was coming.

“I knew that this was coming. The last conversation that we had is that he told me it was on his desk to be signed,” said Whitsett. “The former mayor had an unjust sentence, and that he served enough time, and that I am happy for his family that he has them now, and that he’s able to spend time with his family now, where he should be.”

Kilpatrick, 50, is currently serving a 28-year sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Oakdale, Louisiana. As of Sunday night, his release date was still listed for January 18, 2037 on the Bureau of Prison inmate directory. Earlier this year, Kilpatrick’s family believed he would be released for COVID-19 concerns, but the request was denied by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Kilpatrick, once considered a young rising start in the Democratic Party, received one of the longest sentences for corruption ever given to a major U.S. politician.

U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider was definitely not in support of a shortened sentence or pardon for Kilpatrick.

“My position on the disgraced former Mayor of Detroit has not changed. Kwame Kilpatrick has earned every day he served in federal prison for the horrible crimes he committed against the People of Detroit. He is a notorious and unrepentant criminal,” reads a statement from Schneider. “He remains convicted of 24 felonies. Kilpatrick has served only one quarter of the sentence that was very appropriately imposed. Thankfully, under Michigan law, he cannot hold state or local public office for 20 years after his conviction.”

Trump pardons ex-strategist Steve Bannon, dozens of others (AP):

Trump pardoned former chief strategist Steve Bannon as part of a flurry of clemency action in the final hours of his White House term that benefited more than 140 people, including rap performers, ex-members of Congress and other allies of him and his family.

The last-minute clemency, announced Wednesday morning, follows separate waves of pardons over the past month for Trump associates convicted in the FBI’s Russia investigation as well as for the father of his son-in-law. Taken together, the actions underscore the president’s willingness, all the way through his four years in the White House, to flex his constitutional powers in ways that defy convention and explicitly aid his friends and supporters.

To be sure, the latest list was heavily populated by more conventional candidates whose cases had been championed by criminal justice activists. One man who has spent nearly 24 years in prison on drug and weapons charges but had shown exemplary behavior behind bars had his sentence commuted, as did a former Marine sentenced in 2000 in connection with a cocaine conviction.

But the names of prominent Trump allies nonetheless stood out.

Besides Bannon, other pardon recipients included Elliott Broidy, a Republican fundraiser who pleaded guilty last fall in a scheme to lobby the Trump administration to drop an investigation into the looting of a Malaysian wealth fund, and Ken Kurson, a friend of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner who was charged last October with cyberstalking during a heated divorce.

Bannon’s pardon was especially notable given that the prosecution was still in its early stages and any trial was months away. Whereas pardon recipients are conventionally thought of as defendants who have faced justice, often by having served at least some prison time, the pardon nullifies the prosecution and effectively eliminates any prospect for punishment.

“Steve Bannon is getting a pardon from Trump after defrauding Trump’s own supporters into paying for a wall that Trump promised Mexico would pay for,” Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff said on Twitter. “And if that all sounds crazy, that’s because it is. Thank God we have only 12 more hours of this den of thieves.”

And while other presidents have issued controversial pardons at the ends of their administration, perhaps no commander in chief has so enjoyed using the clemency authority to benefit not only friends and acquaintances but also celebrity defendants and those championed by allies.

Wednesday’s list includes its share of high-profile defendants. Among them were rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black, both convicted in Florida on weapons charges. Wayne, whose real name is Dwayne Michael Carter, has frequently expressed support for Trump and recently met with the president on criminal justice issues. Others on the list included Death Row Records co-founder Michael Harris and New York art dealer and collector Hillel Nahmad.

Other pardon recipients include former Rep. Rick Renzi, an Arizona Republican who served three years for corruption, money laundering and other charges, and former Rep. Duke Cunningham of California, who was convicted of accepting $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors. Cunningham, who was released from prison in 2013, received a conditional pardon.

Read more here.


About the Author:

Dave Bartkowiak Jr. is the digital managing editor for ClickOnDetroit.