Pardons to ex-strategist Steve Bannon, 73 others; blocking Venezuelans' deportation: Here is how Trump spent his final few hours at the White House

The White House in a statement issued on Wednesday said that Trump granted a full pardon to Bannon, who was in charge of the final months of his 2016 presidential campaign.
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump stop to talk with the media as they walk to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House. (Photo | AP)
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump stop to talk with the media as they walk to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House. (Photo | AP)

WASHINGTON: Outgoing President Donald Trump has pardoned his former political strategist Steve Bannon, one of the key architects of his 2016 electoral victory, as he issued a wave of pardons using the final hours of his presidency to grant clemency to 143 people.

The record 73 pardons and 70 commutations came in addition to the dozens of similar actions that Trump took after he lost the November 3 presidential elections to Joe Biden of the Democratic Party.

Biden, 78, will be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States on Wednesday.

The White House in a statement issued on Wednesday said that Trump granted a full pardon to Bannon, who was in charge of the final months of his 2016 presidential campaign.

Bannon was indicted in August when New York federal prosecutors charged him and three others with defrauding donors of more than a million dollars as part of an online fundraising campaign purportedly aimed at supporting Trump's border wall.

The White House in its statement said Bannon has been an important leader in the conservative movement and is known for his political acumen.

Besides Bannon, other pardon recipients included Elliott Broidy, a former top fundraiser for Trump's campaign who pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy relating to a secret lobbying campaign to influence the Trump administration on behalf of a foreign billionaire in exchange for millions of dollars, and Ken Kurson, a friend of Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner who was charged last October with cyberstalking during a heated divorce.

Trump also granted a full pardon to rapper Lil Wayne who had pleaded guilty to a gun possession charge in Miami.

Another rapper, Kodak Black, received a commutation after he pleaded guilty to a weapons charge.

Brett Berish of Sovereign Brands, who supports a pardon for Wayne, whose real name is Dwayne Michael Carter, described him as "trustworthy, kind-hearted and generous," the White House said.

Wayne has "exhibited this generosity through commitment to a variety of charities, including donations to research hospitals and a host of foodbanks," it said.

He also pardoned former Republican Congressman P Rick Renzi of Arizona.

In 2013, Renzi was convicted of extortion, bribery, insurance fraud, money laundering, and racketeering.

He was sentenced to two years in federal prison, two years of supervised release, and paid a USD 25,000 fine.

Before his conviction, Renzi served three terms in the House of Representatives.

Trump also commuted the prison sentence of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who has served about seven years behind bars for a racketeering and bribery scheme.

Trump has already pardoned his longtime associates and supporters, including his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort; Charles Kushner, the father of his son-in-law; his longtime friend and adviser Roger Stone; and his former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Trump shielded tens of thousands of Venezuelan migrants from deportation Tuesday night, rewarding Venezuelan exiles who have been among his most loyal supporters and who fear losing the same privileged access to the White House during the Biden administration.

Trump signed an executive order deferring for 18 months the removal of more than 145,000 Venezuelans who were at risk of being sent back to their crisis-wracked homeland.

He cited the "deteriorative condition" within Venezuela that constitutes a national security threat as the basis for his decision.

"America remains a beacon of hope and freedom for many, and now eligible Venezuelan nationals in the U. S. will receive much-needed temporary immigration relief," Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican of Florida, said in a statement praising the decision.

The last-minute reprieve, in sharp contrast to Trump's hardline immigration policies the past four years ,capped a busy final day in office that also saw Trump issue a sweeping new round of financial sanctions targeting the alleged frontman of Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro and tighten controls to keep spying technology out of the hands of the Venezuelan military.

But ahead of Joe Biden's inauguration, Wednesday, far greater attention was focused on the president-elect's choice to be secretary of state, Antony Blinken, who during his U.S.Senate confirmation hearing in Washington showed continued support for Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó.

Blinken, in his first comments on Venezuela, said he would continue recognizing Guaidó as Venezuela's interim president and indicated he has no illusions of an eventual dialogue with Maduro, who he called a "brutal dictator."

Still, the veteran diplomat expressed frustration with the results of the current U.S. approach, which hasn't shaken Maduro's grip on power or led to free and fair elections.

He said there is room for fine-tuning sanctions and better coordination with allied nations to restore democracy to the crisis-stricken South American nation.

"The hard part is that for all these efforts, which I support, we obviously have not gotten the results that we need," Blinken said.

The Trump administration was the first of now more than 50 countries in the world to recognize Guaidó as Venezuela's president shortly after the young lawmaker rose up to challenge Maduro's rule two years ago.

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo spoke Monday by phone with Guaidó, expressing his "personal respect and appreciation" to the opposition leader for his "commitment to the cause of freedom," the State Department said in a statement.

Venezuela, a once-wealthy oil-producing nation, has fallen into an economic and political crisis in recent years that has seen a flood of more than 5 million residents flee a breakdown in public services and shortages including a lack of running water, electricity, and gasoline.

Most have migrated to other parts of Latin America.

But an estimated 350,000 are believed to reside in the U.S., and about 146,000 of them have no legal status, according to the Center for Migration Studies in New York.

More than 700 Venezuelans have been removed from the U.S. since 2018, while 11,000 more are under deportation proceedings, according to the TRAC immigration database of Syracuse University.

For years, Venezuelans, with bipartisan support, have been clamoring for so-called temporary protected status to no effect as Trump has tried to end the program for migrants from six other countries, including Haiti, Nicaragua, and El Salvador.

Trump's order provides similar protections, including protection from deportation and the right to work, but was still met by resistance by some Democrats who want Biden to introduce legislation providing additional safeguards.

"Our community will not be fooled and used for political games anymore," said Leopoldo Martinez, the first Venezuela-born member of the Democratic National Committee.

In the latest round of sanctions trying to pressure Maduro out, the U.S.Treasury Department imposed sanctions on three individuals, 14 businesses and six ships.

All are accused of helping the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA evade earlier U.S. sanctions designed to stop the president from profiting from crude sales.

The sanctions target people and businesses linked to Alex Saab, a Colombian businessman who U.S. officials say is the front man for Maduro responsible for everything from the importation of food to the export of the nation's crude.

Saab was arrested on a U. S. warrant last year in the African nation of Cape Verde on what Maduro says was an official mission to Iran to purchase supplies.

He is now fighting extradition to Miami, where he faces corruption charges.

Maduro's government blasted the sanctions as another act of "imperialist aggression" aimed at destroying Venezuela's ability to meet its own needs through oil sales after four years of attacks from the Trump administration.

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