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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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Cuomo says he’ll ‘fully cooperate’ with NY AG’s review of sexual harassment claims

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Wednesday that he will “fully cooperate” with the state attorney general’s independent review into sexual harassment allegations made against the currently scandal-ridden governor, saying, “I fully support a woman’s right to come forward.”

Last Wednesday, Lindsey Boylan, who served in his administration for over three years, accused Cuomo of suggesting to her on a 2017 flight that they play strip poker, inappropriate touching, and kissing her on the lips without her consent.

RELATED: ‘Let’s play strip poker’: Fmr. Cuomo aide accuses NY governor of sexual harassment

Following Boylan’s accusations, 25-year-old Charlotte Bennett alleged the governor indicated interest in having an affair with her while she was serving in his administration as a health policy adviser. In a Saturday New York Times report, Bennett told the newspaper that Cuomo asked her if she had “ever been with an older man,” adding that “age doesn’t matter” in relationships.

At Wednesday’s press briefing, the Empire State governor addressed the accusations leveled against him over the past seven days by three women and New York Attorney General Letitia James’ (D) independent review into those claims, which she announced on Monday was formally proceeding.

RELATED: De Blasio ‘sickened’ by Cuomo sexual harassment claims

“As you probably know, the attorney general is doing an independent review, and I will fully cooperate with that review,” Cuomo said at the beginning of his statement. “Now, the lawyers say I shouldn’t say anything when you have a pending review until that review is over. I understand that, I’m a lawyer, too. But, I want New Yorkers to hear from me directly on this.”

“First, I fully support a woman’s right to come forward,” the governor began. “And I think it should be encouraged in every way. I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable. It was unintentional and I truly and deeply apologize for it. I feel awful about it, and frankly I am embarrassed by it, and that’s not easy to say. But that’s the truth.”

This echoes what Cuomo said in a Sunday statement about the allegations, in which he stated he “may have been insensitive” during his tenure but charged his accusers of misinterpreting his actions, saying, “I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation… I am truly sorry about that.”

RELATED: Cuomo responds to sexual harassment claims, saying he ‘may have been insensitive’

During his Wednesday remarks, Cuomo iterated “I never touched anyone inappropriately,” repeated that sentence, then said “I never knew at the time that I was making anyone feel uncomfortable” and repeated that one too.

“And I certainly never, ever meant to offend anyone or hurt anyone or cause anyone any pain. That is the last thing I would ever want to do,” he continued. “I ask the people of this state to wait for the facts from the attorney general’s report before forming an opinion. Get the facts, please, before forming an opinion.”

“I also want you to know that I have learned from what has been an incredibly difficult situation for me as well as other people, and I’ve learned an important lesson,” the governor said at the end of his statement. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry for whatever pain I caused anyone, I never intended it, and I will be the better for this experience.”

Amid Boylan and Bennett’s allegations, another report of Cuomo sexually harassing a woman has cropped up. On Monday, a woman named Anna Ruch accused the governor of placing his hands on her cheeks—without her consent—at a 2019 wedding reception and asking if he could kiss her. A photograph of the two together at the event has also been circulating on social media.

RELATED: ‘Eat the whole sausage: Gov. Cuomo in hot water for resurfaced video

Asked at Wednesday’s briefing about the pictures that have resurfaced of him being touchy with people, particularly that of him and Ruch, the governor claimed that it is his way of greeting people.

“I understand the opinion of—and feelings of—Ms. Ruch,” Cuomo said. “You can find hundreds of pictures of me making the same gesture with hundreds of people—women, children, men, etc. You can go find hundreds of pictures of me kissing people. […] It is my usual and customary way of greeting.”

Moreover, the governor said that his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, would do the same thing.

“By the way, it was my father’s way of greeting people,” Cuomo said, explaining, “You’re the governor of the state, you want people to feel comfortable, you want to reach out to them.”

He also mentioned that he kisses and hugs legislators and noted that at an event in Queens the other day he hugged pastors and state assembly members.

Furthermore, the governor said that his intent “doesn’t matter,” saying, “What it matters is if anybody was offended by it.”

“But if they were offended by it, then it was wrong,” he added, going on to say that if they were offended or hurt by it, he apologizes.

MORE ON CUOMO: NY dem says state legislature is ‘inching toward’ Cuomo impeachment probe

You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.

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