U.S. President Donald Trump granted a full pardon on Tuesday to George Papadopoulos, a former campaign aide who pleaded guilty as part of the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Trump also pardoned Alex van der Zwaan, 36, the Dutch son-in-law of Russian billionaire German Khan. Van der Zwaan was sentenced to 30 days in prison and fined $20,000 US for lying to U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators about contacts with an official in Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Their names were included in a wave of pre-Christmas pardons announced by the White House. Trump granted full pardons to 15 people, including two former Republican lawmakers, and commuted all or part of the sentences of five others.
Papadopoulos, 33, was an adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign. He pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to FBI agents about the timing and significance of his contacts with people who claimed to have ties to top Russian officials.
“The defendant’s crime was serious and caused damage to the government’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election,” a sentencing recommendation memo from Mueller had said.
He served 12 days of a 14-day sentence in federal prison, then was placed on a 12-month supervised release.
The White House said Papadopoulos was charged with “a process-related crime, one count of making false statements,” as part of the Mueller probe, which Trump had denounced as a witch hunt.
“Today’s pardon helps correct the wrong that Mueller’s team inflicted on so many people,” the White House said.
More pardons expected
The pardons were part of a flurry of such actions expected by the outgoing Republican president before Democratic president-elect Joe Biden takes office on Jan. 20. Trump, who has refused to concede, has made unsubstantiated claims of widespread voting fraud and pursued a series of unsuccessful lawsuits to overturn the result.
Last month, Trump pardoned his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who had twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI during the Russia investigation. The Flynn pardon drew condemnation from Democrats and other critics.
The group announced Tuesday night inlcuded four former government contractors convicted in a 2007 massacre in Baghdad that left more a dozen Iraqi civilians dead and caused an international uproar over the use of private security guards in a war zone.
Supporters of Nicholas Slatten, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard, the former contractors at Blackwater Worldwide, had lobbied for pardons, arguing that the men had been excessively punished in an investigation and prosecution they said was tainted by problems and withheld exculpatory evidence. All four were serving lengthy prison sentences.
The pardons reflected Trump’s apparent willingness to give the benefit of doubt to American service members and contractors when it comes to acts of violence in war zones against civilians. Last November, for instance, he pardoned a former U.S. Army commando who was set to stand trial next year in the killing of a suspected Afghan bomb-maker and a former Army lieutenant convicted of murder for ordering his men to fire upon three Afghans.
The pardons drew criticism from top Democrats. Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the chair of the House permanent select committee on intelligence, said the president was abusing his power.
“Trump is doling out pardons, not on the basis of repentance, restitution or the interests of justice, but to reward his friends and political allies, to protect those who lie to cover up him, to shelter those guilty of killing civilians, and to undermine an investigation that uncovered massive wrongdoing,” he said.