This article, originally published November 17, will be updated as President Trump issues more acts of executive clemency and as Fox News personalities call on him to issue additional pardons.
President Donald Trump’s Fox News obsession is directly linked to at least nine of his grants of executive clemency -- and if he listens to the entreaties of the network’s hosts, more pardons may be on the way.
Trump’s relentless consumption of Fox propaganda and his use of network personalities as outside advisers has triggered an array of consequences, from racist tweets to a federal government shutdown to White House and cabinet-level personnel changes to the abuse of power in Ukraine that led the House of Representatives to begin an impeachment inquiry into his conduct.
The U.S. Constitution and federal law limit Trump’s presidential powers through checks and balances by the legislative and judicial branches, while the extensive bureaucracy constrains his actions because he depends on other executive officials to carry out his orders. But the president’s ability to grant clemency in federal cases is virtually unrestricted, to the point where he could conceivably issue a pardon to almost anyone with a single tweet.
Fox, which often provokes Trump to act on his worst impulses, thus has particular influence over his use of that power. Recognizing this, people accused of or convicted of federal crimes and their family members and lawyers have descended on the network over the past few years, using the president’s favorite programs to plead their case to him directly.
These campaigns have been quite successful. Trump has granted clemency to heroes of Fox’s programming; clients of pro-Trump lawyers who regularly defend him on the network; and individuals whose cases became causes celebre of Trump-loving hosts. Fox hosts have also aggressively championed granting pardons to Trump aides and associates convicted in connection with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, providing Trump with cover if he chooses to grant clemency to those who may have committed crimes in order to shield him from legal and political exposure.
Trump's Fox-linked acts of executive clemency
Joseph Arpaio. The former sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, was convicted of criminal contempt on July 31, 2017. Trump pardoned Arpaio on August 25, 2017, and issued a statement praising Arpaio’s “life's work of protecting the public from the scourges of crime and illegal immigration.” Fox had celebrated Arpaio’s actions for years, bolstering his stature in dozens of laudatory interviews, while he otherwise earned national notoriety for his brutal, humiliating treatment of undocumented immigrants, his refusal to stop racially profiling Latinos in his jurisdiction, and his general contempt for the rule of law. Fox personalities Gregg Jarrett and Sean Hannity may have played roles in securing the pardon.
Kristian Saucier. A former Navy sailor, Saucier pleaded guilty on a charge of unauthorized possession and retention of national defense information after he illegally kept photos he had taken inside a nuclear submarine and hampered the subsequent investigation. He was sentenced to a year in prison on August 19, 2016. Trump pardoned him on March 9, 2018. Saucier’s case had received positive coverage on Fox, where his actions were favorably compared to Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server as secretary of state, and he made a March 2018 appearance on Fox & Friends to ask for a presidential pardon. Trump’s pardon was issued within a week of Saucier’s Fox interview, and his lawyer subsequently credited a Fox-centric PR strategy for capturing the president’s attention.
I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby. A former White House aide, Libby was convicted of four felonies in 2007, including perjury, lying to federal law enforcement, and obstruction of justice during the investigation into the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity, but then-President George W. Bush commuted his 30-month prison sentence. Trump pardoned Libby on April 13, 2018. The lawyer for Libby’s pardon bid was Victoria Toensing, a Republican attorney who used regular Fox appearances to attack the Mueller probe. Toensing “declined to say what conversations she had with the White House about Libby in recent days and weeks” in a subsequent interview.
Sholom Rubashkin. In 2010, a federal judge sentenced Rubashkin to 27 years in prison after he was convicted on more than 80 charges of financial fraud after immigration authorities arrested hundreds of undocumented immigrants during a raid on the meatpacking plant he managed and his family owned. Trump commuted his sentence on December 20, 2017. Rubashkin’s lawyer was Alan Dershowitz, who made regular appearances on Fox in the prior months arguing that the Mueller probe was a “criminalization of political differences.” He later said he had appealed for the commutation of Rubashkin’s sentence during a private meeting with the president.
Dinesh D’Souza. D’Souza, a bigoted right-wing troll and all-around fraud, pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations and lying to investigators and was sentenced to five years of probation in 2014. Trump pardoned him in May 2018, saying he had been “treated very unfairly by our government.” D’Souza has been a fixture on Fox for years, using that platform to promote particularly virulent attacks on President Barack Obama. Following his indictment, the network’s hosts rushed to declare him the victim of a political persecution.
Michael Behenna. A military court convicted Behenna, a former Army lieutenant, of murdering an Iraqi his unit had detained and interrogated during a deployment to Iraq in 2008. Behenna served five years of a 25-year sentence before being paroled in 2014. Trump granted Behenna a full pardon in May. Behenna had received favorable coverage from Fox. During a Fox & Friends appearance in March, his parents promoted his bid for a presidential pardon. Pete Hegseth, a Fox host who regularly advises the president, praised Trump’s decision to pardon Behenna, arguing that Behenna should not have received prison time.
Edward Gallagher. A Navy SEAL special operations chief, Gallagher was acquitted on charges related to the murder of a teenage prisoner of war in Iraq after fellow SEALs who testified against him contradicted each other in military court. But he was convicted on a lesser charge of posing for photos with the corpse and demoted in July. Trump cleared Gallagher and restored his rank on November 15, overruling top Pentagon leaders who had argued that the move would undermine the military code of justice. Fox hosts provided Gallagher with months of favorable coverage, including interviews with Gallagher’s lawyer, brother, and wife as they sought direct presidential intervention. Notably, Hegseth had aggressively lobbied for Gallagher’s pardon, both on-air and in private conversations with Trump. In March, Trump live-tweeted a Fox segment about the case.
Mathew Golsteyn. An Army major, Golsteyn was charged with murder in December for killing an alleged Taliban bomb maker while serving in Afghanistan in 2010. Trump pardoned him on November 15, overruling top Pentagon leaders who had argued that the move would undermine the military code of justice. Fox hosts provided Golsteyn with months of favorable coverage, including interviews with Golsteyn’s father and wife as they sought direct presidential intervention. Notably, Hegseth had aggressively lobbied for a Golsteyn pardon, both on-air and in private conversations with Trump. In December, Trump live-tweeted a Fox & Friends segment about the case featuring Golsteyn’s lawyer, saying he planned to review the case and tagging Hegseth, the program’s host.
Clint Lorance. A former Army first lieutenant, Lorance was found guilty in 2013 of second-degree murder of two civilians in Afghanistan after nine members of his platoon testified against him at his trial. Trump pardoned him on November 15, overruling top Pentagon leaders who had argued that the move would undermine the military code of justice. Fox hosts provided Lorance with favorable coverage, including an interview with his lawyer. Lorance’s lawyer asked Sean Hannity during an interview to inform the president about his client’s case. Hegseth had aggressively lobbied for a Golsteyn pardon on-air and on Twitter.
Potential future Fox-linked Trump pardons
Roger Stone. Trump’s longtime political adviser and one of the worst people in modern American public life, Stone was convicted on November 15 of seven felonies in a case generated by Mueller’s investigation. The crimes were committed in a bid to protect Trump by concealing from investigators that he had, on Trump’s behalf, tried to obtain emails Russian hackers had stolen from Democrats and provided to WikiLeaks during the 2016 election. Fox personalities, particularly host and Trump adviser Tucker Carlson, have urged Trump to pardon Stone. Stone, a notorious liar, said in January he never discussed a pardon with the president; as the jury deliberated, conspiracy theorist and Stone ally Alex Jones broadcast what he claimed to be a message from Stone asking the president to pardon him.
Michael Flynn. Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser and an aide on his campaign, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in December 2017 and began cooperating with Mueller’s investigation. In June, he replaced his legal team with Sidney Powell, a Fox regular who had argued that Flynn should withdraw his plea and since has, in an apparent pardon bid, aggressively claimed in court and on Fox that he was the victim of prosecutorial misconduct. Fox personalities have repeatedly urged the president to pardon Flynn. In March 2018, The New York Times reported that Trump’s personal lawyer had broached the idea of a pardon with Flynn’s legal team in a possible effort to thwart the Mueller probe. According to Mueller’s final report, before Flynn began cooperating with Mueller, Trump “sent private and public messages to [him] encouraging him to stay strong and conveying that the president still cared about him,” in a potential case of pardon-dangling.
Paul Manafort. In March, Trump’s campaign chair was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison after being convicted in two separate trials of illegally lobbying in Ukraine and federal tax and bank fraud charges in cases generated by Mueller’s probe. He has also been charged with 16 additional charges in New York state court. Fox personalities have repeatedly suggested a pardon for Manafort may be warranted because he is “facing a lot of time in jail simply because of the connection to Donald Trump.” In March 2018, The New York Times reported that Trump’s personal lawyer had broached the idea of a pardon with Manafort’s legal team in a possible effort to thwart the Mueller probe.
George Papadopoulos. A former Trump campaign aide, Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI that downplayed his connections to Russia during the early days of the probe. He served 12 days in prison in 2018. Papadopoulos has become a regular Fox guest and a hero to some on the right because of his promotion of the conspiracy theory that the Russia probe was the result of a plot by the FBI and foreign intelligence services to stop Trump’s election. He has drawn support from Fox hosts for his bid for a presidential pardon and appeared on the network to make his case directly to Trump.
Rod Blagojevich. The former Democratic governor of Illinois, Blagojevich was found guilty on 17 federal corruption charges and sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2011. Trump has repeatedly floated the idea of commuting Blagojevich’s sentence. He may have gotten the idea from Fox, as network hosts including Carlson, Jeanine Pirro, and Martha MacCallum have given Blagojevich’s wife a sympathetic platform as she seeks a presidential pardon.