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Trump pardons, commutes sentences of 20 people

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With less than 30 days left in office, President Donald Trump on Tuesday evening pardoned 15 individuals and commuted the sentences of five, including two Republican congressmen, former government contractors convicted in a 2007 massacre in Baghdad, among others.

This latest slate of pardons comes after the president controversially pardoned former National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn toward the end of last month, who had twice pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents after he was accused of having contacts with Russian officials.

Months ago, Trump also commuted the sentence of longtime ally Roger Stone days before he was scheduled to report to prison.

According to a range of reports, the president is likely to issue more pardons before leaving office on January 20.

This latest wave of pardons include those for former GOP Reps. Duncan Hunter (Calif.) and Chris Collins (N.Y.), who were some of the earliest Republican lawmakers to rally behind Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Also related to this is Trump commuting the sentences of five other individuals the same day, including former Congressman Steve Stockman (R-TX).

Following Collins pleading guilty to misusing campaign funds in 2019, the congressman was sentenced to 26 months in federal prison.

Hunter pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit securities fraud and lying to the FBI in 2019, and was then sentenced to 11 months in federal prison.

Former Border Patrol Agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean who shot a suspected drug smuggler fleeing custody were pardoned by Trump. Sara A. Carter wrote of the pair in 2006 and continued to advocate for their pardons.

Click here to read her story for the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin.

The president on Tuesday also pardoned four former Blackwater Worldwide contractors—Nicholas Slatten, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, and Dustin Heard—who were convicted in a 2007 massacre in Baghdad that resulted in more than a dozen Iraqi civilians dead. The news story sparked global outcry over the use of private military contractors in combat zones.

Those campaigning for pardons of the former contractors had claimed the four were excessively punished in an investigation and prosecution they said was undercut by issues and withheld exculpatory evidence. Prior to their pardons, the four were serving out long prison sentences.

Two other pardons for people involved in Robert Mueller’s Russia probe were also announced Tuesday.

One was for George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser on Trump’s 2016 campaign. He pleaded guilty to lying to FBI investigators during the Russia probe, serving 12 days in prison back in 2018.

The second one was for the Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan, who was sentenced to 30 days in prison for also lying to the FBI during Mueller’s Russia probe.

The president also commuted the rest of three people’s sentences Tuesday. Crystal Munoz, Tynice Nichole Hall, and Judith Negron had been convicted on drug and fraud-related charges, and had been previously granted clemency by Trump.

Moreover, calls to pardon National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden have been mounting astronomically in recent months and weeks as the sun sets on Trump’s time in the Oval Office. During the summer, Trump himself even expressed interest in possibly pardoning the whistleblower, who has been hiding away in Russia since leaking classified NSA information to the public in 2013.

“I’m going to take a look at [Snowden’s case] very strongly,” Trump said during a news conference in August. “It seems to be a split decision,” he said. “Many people think he should be somehow treated differently, and other people think he did very bad things.”

You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.

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Chinese Spy Balloon: Tensions rise between the U.S. and China

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A strange object was spotted Wednesday over Billings Montana. The Pentagon confirmed Thursday that the strange object was, in fact, a Chinese spy balloon. According to a report from KPAX, a western Montana news outlet, the balloon had been on the governments radar for days.

On Friday, the Chinese government released a statement saying that the balloon spotted in Billings is a “civilian airship” that’s sole purpose is used to collect research on weather and that it had just blown off course. The balloon was not shot down by orders of the Pentagon due to the risk of falling debris injuring people on the ground.

Sara Carter, who has spoken frequently on the Chinese government’s threat and expansion to the West, stated on Twitter that the United States has failed to stop China from purchasing land near military installations, vital agricultural land, as well as, allowing Chinese linked companies, such as Huawei, to install technology in cellular towers. Those cellular towers are located in Montana, along side more than 150 ICBM nuclear silos.

China said, “The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into U.S. airspace due to force majeure.” Majeure meaning that it was out of there control. It blew off course due to limited “self-steering” capabilities according the Ministry. The ministry also stated that the balloon, “deviated far from its planned course.”

This incident is adding fuel to the fire of what is already a tense relationship between the worlds two largest economies. China already lays claim to approximately 80% of the South China Sea, and is seeking full control over Taiwan after assuming full control of Hong Kong. China’s belt and road initiative has invested copious amounts of money into building infrastructure in other countries and uses it as economic blackmail. China’s transportation of fentanyl into Mexico is yet again another example of how they are seeking to damage the US.

Is this just a weather ballon that blew off course? US officials at the White House seem to be unconvinced and will continue to monitor the balloon, as reported.

UPDATED: Statement from the Pentagon was jaw dropping when a reporter asked if the public has a right to know about Beijing’s balloon.

“The public certainly has the ability to look up in the sky and see where the balloon is,” a DOD official responded.

 

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