Dinesh D’Souza got off easy. Back in 2014, the right-wing crank was indicted for committing campaign finance fraud, and he pleaded guilty to illegally reimbursing “straw donors” to the Senate campaign of Wendy Long, his friend from college. Prosecutors wanted to throw D’Souza in prison for 10 to 16 months, arguing that the contrition he claimed to feel for his crime was belied by his many cable news appearances in which he said he was a victim of political persecution by the Obama administration. At his sentencing, the judge told D’Souza that “it is still hard for me to discern any personal acceptance of responsibility in this case.”
The judge nonetheless showed leniency and gave D’Souza five years of probation, eight months in a “community confinement center,” plus community service. At the time, D’Souza said he was “relieved” and thanked the judge “for imposing a fair sentence.”
Since then, D’Souza has tried to turn himself into a martyr. With the eager assistance of his friends in conservative media, he’s spun his conviction (he pleaded guilty, remember) and light sentencing as proof that Barack Obama’s administration pursued a vendetta to silence one of its conservative critics. That theory is based on precisely zero evidence.
But it was good enough for President Donald Trump, who announced earlier today via Twitter that D’Souza (a vocal supporter of the president) will be receiving a full pardon.
This is an obvious abuse of the president’s pardoning power and it follows a pattern of corrupt pardons. Trump pardoned former Maricopa County Sheriff (and current Republican Senate candidate) Joe Arpaio last year after he was convicted of criminal contempt of court for refusing to obey judicial orders to halt his department’s racial profiling of Latinos. Former Dick Cheney aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who was convicted of lying to federal prosecutors in the Valerie Plame affair, got a pardon after his Trump-loving attorney pleaded his case to the White House.
In all these cases, there are two common and related themes: Trump using his pardoning power to bestow favors on his cronies, and the insistence that the pardoned person was “treated unfairly.” Trump said Arpaio was “treated unbelievably unfairly,” his statement on Libby’s pardon said that “for years I have heard that he has been treated unfairly,” and his tweet announcing D’Souza’s pardon said he “was treated very unfairly by our government.” What’s clear in all these instances is that “treated unfairly” means that the convicted person did not receive the sort of preferential legal treatment that the president feels his allies should enjoy.
D’Souza’s pardon is also an expression of the corruption rotting away at conservative politics and the right-wing media. A healthy political movement would have long ago ostracized a bigot and fraud like D’Souza. He is a racist troll and inveterate conspiracy theorist who spends his days mocking school shooting survivors on Twitter. Leading up to the 2012 election he wrote a lie-filled book and produced a howlingly mendacious “documentary” arguing that Obama inherited a “Third World, anti-American” ethos from his absentee father. He wrote a book arguing that the “cultural left” was to blame for the September 11 attacks, and another book insisting that “the American slave was treated like property, which is to say, pretty well.”
Rather than booting this extremist to the fringes, conservative media turned D’Souza into a cause célèbre. He was a fixture on Megyn Kelly’s Fox News program during his campaign finance fraud trial, where he was given an open platform to assert his persecution at the hands of Obama. His idiotic conspiracy theories about Obama’s father garnered an enthusiastic endorsement from Newt Gingrich, who argued that you can understand the first black U.S. president only “if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior.” D’Souza is a regular guest on conservative talk radio and routinely hits the lecture circuit with the backing of right-wing activist groups.
Now this racist, conspiratorial fraud has been pardoned by another racist, conspiratorial fraud, and this long-simmering corruption is being lauded within the Republican Party -- Trump’s pardon of D’Souza was quickly celebrated by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who called D’Souza a “powerful voice for freedom.”