With less than 12 hours before the end of his presidency, Donald Trump issued 143 pardons and commutations, including a pardon for Steve Bannon, his former chief strategist and campaign manager. Trump, who has pardoned other associates and allies during his single term, has so far rejected calls to pardon prominent whistleblowers including WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and NSA whistleblowers Edward Snowden and Reality Winner. Details continue to emerge about how allies of Trump have personally profited from people seeking pardons. We speak with John Kiriakou, a former CIA analyst and case officer who exposed the Bush-era torture program and was the only official jailed in connection to it, about the pardon system. He says an associate of Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani offered him a pardon for $2 million, which Kiriakou declined to pay. “They don’t see this as a bribe,” says Kiriakou. “This is the way Washington works.”
AMY GOODMAN: With less than 12 hours before the end of his presidency, Donald Trump issued 143 pardons and commutations, including a pardon for Steve Bannon, his former chief strategist and campaign manager. In August, Bannon was arrested for defrauding Trump supporters who donated to a pro-wall, anti-immigrant nonprofit called We Build the Wall. In recent weeks, Bannon helped promote conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and urged Trump supporters to come to Washington, D.C., on January 6th, when rioters attacked the Capitol in an insurrection that left five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer.
Other high-profile pardons included Elliott Broidy, one of Trump’s top fundraisers in 2016, and three former Republican congressmen — Rick Renzi, Robin Hayes and Randall “Duke” Cunningham — added to another several congressmen, early Trump supporters, that Trump gave commutations or pardons to. Trump also gave a pardon to Ken Kurson, a close friend of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law. Kurson is the former editor of The New York Observer, who was arrested in October for cyberstalking three people, including his ex-wife. The rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black also received pardons. The White House announced the latest pardons shortly before 1 a.m. this morning.
Trump had previously pardoned other top associates, including former campaign manager Paul Manafort, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, adviser Roger Stone, as well as Jared Kushner’s father, as well as four Blackwater mercenaries who massacred 17 Iraqis in the 2007 Nisoor Square massacre in Baghdad, Iraq.
Trump has so far rejected calls to pardon WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange or NSA whistleblowers Edward Snowden and Reality Winner.
Meanwhile, Trump pardoned Israeli spy Aviem Sella, who was indicted in 1987 of recruiting U.S. naval intelligence analyst Jonathan Pollard to sell secrets to Israel.
This all comes as more details emerge about how allies of Trump have personally profited from people seeking pardons. The New York Times reports an associate of Rudy Giuliani told CIA torture whistleblower John Kiriakou a pardon is, quote, “going to cost $2 million.” Kiriakou declined the offer, but he did pay $50,000 to a former top Trump campaign adviser for help in his quest to secure a pardon.
Well, to talk more about the pardon system, we are joined by John Kiriakou himself, who is still seeking a pardon. Kiriakou served 23 months in prison after he exposed the CIA’s torture program.
John Kiriakou, welcome back to Democracy Now!
JOHN KIRIAKOU: Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Before we get your response to these pardons, tell your own story, your own attempt to get a pardon, and what it involved.
JOHN KIRIAKOU: It was different under Donald Trump than it was, certainly, under Barack Obama. The normal way of applying for a pardon is you simply go online to the website of the Office of the U.S. Pardon Attorney; you fill out the form; it then goes to the FBI, which does an investigation; and then the pardon attorney makes a recommendation of yes or no. That’s the way it’s supposed to work. The way it worked under Donald Trump is that he ignored the Office of the U.S. Pardon Attorney. In most cases, the pardon attorney wasn’t even consulted. If you were a friend of the president or you knew someone who was a friend of the president or you hired a friend of the president and you could get to him and make your case, then you were considered for a pardon.
What I did was I had to hire a lobbyist who had headed the Trump campaign in Florida in 2016. She charged me $50,000, that I didn’t have — I had to borrow — with the promise of another $50,000 once I got the pardon. The money went down the drain. But we now know that other associates of Donald Trump were charging double that, even 10 and 20 times that.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, John Kiriakou, what about this issue of your being told that Rudy Giuliani could help win you a pardon for $2 million? Who made — who told you that? And could you tell us any more about that offer?
JOHN KIRIAKOU: Sure. I had a meeting with four other people, that included Rudy Giuliani, on July 1st of last year here in Washington at the Trump Hotel. It was a meeting completely unrelated to a pardon. And I, frankly, didn’t even intend to make the request. But there was a lull in the conversation, so I thought I’d take advantage of the opportunity. And so, I said, “Well, Mr. Mayor, can we talk about maybe asking for a presidential pardon?” He immediately said that he had to use the men’s room, and he got up, and he walked away.
One of his aides who was there at the meeting then said to me, “Rudy doesn’t talk about pardons. You have to talk to me. And he’s going to ask you for $2 million.” And I laughed. And I said, “I don’t have $2 million.” I said, “Are you out of your mind? Two million dollars? Why would I spend $2 million to recover a $700,000 pension? That doesn’t make any sense.” And I dropped it. But he said that that’s what the price was.
Now, they don’t see this as a bribe. They don’t see it as buying a pardon. They see it as lobbying, which is, you know, a dirty thing that happens in Washington, but this is the way Washington works.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, supposedly Trump saw you on a Fox News show hosted by Tucker Carlson. Could you talk about that?
JOHN KIRIAKOU: Sure. It was in October of 2019. I was on the Tucker Carlson show talking — this is on Fox News — talking about my case, that I was prosecuted under Barack Obama after I blew the whistle on the CIA’s torture program, and my real detractor in the Obama administration was John Brennan. I said that Robert Mueller had set up the John Kiriakou task force and that Peter Strzok had actually arrested me. And I, you know, was looking for a pardon.
Well, it turned out that Donald Trump was watching the episode that night. And he called Jared Kushner and said, “There’s a guy, John Kiriakou, on Fox News. You should get in touch with him.”
So, the next day, my attorney got a call from Jared Kushner’s attorney. And a couple days after that, we met in Kushner’s attorney’s office. Kushner was very cold. He was very stiff and not at all friendly, amiable, open. What he said was, “What do you want?” And I said, “I want a presidential pardon.” And he said, “Give me one page. I want three-quarters of the page explaining your situation, your case, your background. The other quarter of the page, I want you to tell me how a pardon for you helps Donald Trump get reelected.” So, I did what I could. My attorney wrote this one page. We sent it to Kushner and never heard anything again.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And how does that compare to what the normal process is supposed to be for someone seeking a presidential pardon?
JOHN KIRIAKOU: The normal process is you wouldn’t even know who Jared Kushner was. The problem that we have here is that, over the years, the Office of the U.S. Pardon Attorney has seen it as its role to deny people’s applications for pardons. If you have 10,000 applications a year and you only make recommendations for five pardons or 10 pardons, then the system is broken.
And so, Trump recognized that the system was broken, and he also recognized that he had unfettered authority to take care of his friends and his associates. And that’s what he did. He did it in a really ugly, unethical way, but he did it because, really, for his friends and associates, there was no way around it. They weren’t going to go to the website of the pardon attorney and fill out a form. They were going to go directly to the president.
Frankly, what we need is a bipartisan effort to reform the pardon process. First of all, the pardon attorney should not be housed at the Justice Department. It should be housed at the White House. Secondly, it should be independent of the prosecutors at the Justice Department and independent of the attorney general. And it’s not, and so nothing gets done.