President Donald Trump has granted clemency to author and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza.
“Will be giving a Full Pardon to Dinesh D’Souza today. He was treated very unfairly by our government!” Trump said in a tweet on Thursday morning, May 31.
Will be giving a Full Pardon to Dinesh D’Souza today. He was treated very unfairly by our government!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 31, 2018
“Mr. D’Souza was, in the President’s opinion, a victim of selective prosecution for violations of campaign finance laws. Mr. D’Souza accepted responsibility for his actions, and also completed community service by teaching English to citizens and immigrants seeking citizenship,” the White House stated in a Thursday release. “In light of these facts, the President has determined that Mr. D’Souza is fully worthy of this pardon.”
D’Souza’s background was scrutinized after he released a documentary in 2012, digging into the past life and motivations of then-President Barack Obama.
In 2014, he was indicted in New York for making an illegal campaign contribution. The prosecutors alleged he asked two friends and their spouses to donate to the 2012 Senate campaign of New York lawyer Wendy Long. D’Souza then reimbursed the donations to the tune of $20,000, thus breaking campaign finance laws that at the time allowed the maximum contribution of only $5,000 per person.
He was charged with one count of illegal campaign contribution, which carried a maximum sentence of two years in prison. He was also charged with one count of causing false statements to be made to the Federal Election Commission in connection with the illegal campaign contribution, which carried a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
Later that year he pleaded guilty to the first charge. The second was dropped. The prosecutors wanted 10-16 months in prison for him. The court sentenced him to eight months in a community confinement center, five years of probation, one day of community service a week during probation, weekly therapy sessions, and a $30,000 fine.
D’Souza, 57, said he deeply regretted his conduct, but said his motivation was to help a friend—he knew Long since they met as students in the 1980s.
Long’s campaign seemed a fool’s errand to begin with, running as a Republican against the Democrat incumbent Kirsten Gillibrand, who took over in 2009 after Hillary Clinton in a Senate seat not held by a Republican since the 1970s. Gillibrand spent over $14 million on her campaign. Long spent less than $750,000, according to OpenSecrets.org. Long lost by a landslide.
D’Souza argued the charges against him were politically motivated in the sense that he was singled out for prosecution because he made statements in his documentary that were uncomfortable to Obama.
The harshness of the charges appeared out of place to Alan Dershowitz, former Harvard professor and scholar in criminal and constitutional law.
“The idea of charging him with a felony for this doesn’t sound like a proper exercise of prosecutorial discretion,” Dershowitz told The Wall Street Journal in 2014. “I can’t help but think that [D’Souza’s] politics have something to do with it. . . . It smacks of selective prosecution.”
The indictment stated D’Souza’s transgression was discovered during “a routine review by the FBI of campaign filings” after the Senate election. Yet it stands in contrast to the campaign finance case of actress and profuse Democratic donor Rosie O’Donnell, whose $5,400 in over-the-limit contributions (made using five different New York addresses and four variations of her name) were only revealed thanks to a New York Post investigation and resulted in no charges.
Speaking to reporters on Air Force One on Thursday, Trump said he had never met or spoken to D’Souza before calling the filmmaker the night before. After seeing his story in the media, he felt D’Souza was treated unfairly. “What should have been a quick minor fine, like everybody else with the election stuff.…what they did to him was horrible,” Trump said.
The pardon was welcomed by D’Souza’s wife Debbie.
“I want to thank @realDonaldTrump for giving my husband a pardon but I particularly want to thank @SenTedCruz for putting it on his radar and helping make it happen! So grateful! #DineshDsouzaPardon,” she said on Twitter.
— Debbie D'Souza (@Debber66) May 31, 2018
Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) added his two cents on Twitter too: “Bravo! @realDonaldTrump Dinesh was the subject of a political prosecution, brazenly targeted by the Obama administration bc of his political views. And he’s a powerful voice for freedom, systematically dismantling the lies of the Left—which is why they hate him. This is Justice.”
Bravo! @realDonaldTrump Dinesh was the subject of a political prosecution, brazenly targeted by the Obama administration bc of his political views. And he’s a powerful voice for freedom, systematically dismantling the lies of the Left—which is why they hate him. This is Justice. https://t.co/cGHzcgwSnK
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) May 31, 2018
D’Souza thanked his supporters and Trump on Twitter.
“Obama & his stooges tried to extinguish my American dream & destroy my faith in America. Thank you @realDonaldTrump for fully restoring both,” he said.
Obama & his stooges tried to extinguish my American dream & destroy my faith in America. Thank you @realDonaldTrump for fully restoring both
— Dinesh D'Souza (@DineshDSouza) May 31, 2018
“My heartfelt thanks to those who prayed for me, supported me & reached out on social media to President Trump to pardon me,” he added in another tweet.
My heartfelt thanks to those who prayed for me, supported me & reached out on social media to President Trump to pardon me
— Dinesh D'Souza (@DineshDSouza) May 31, 2018
D’Souza grew up in Bombay and came to the United States as an exchange student when he was 17. He graduated from Dartmouth College and became a prolific writer on conservative thought. He was even a policy adviser to the Reagan administration between 1987 and 1988.
He wrote more than 20 books and produced and directed three political documentaries—some of the highest grossing ever. His 2012 film “2016: Obama’s America” became the second highest grossing political documentary.
In the film, D’Souza interviews some people from and close to the Obama family, including his half-brother George and the third wife of Obama’s grandfather Sarah. He also explores some of the people who influenced Obama’s worldview, prominently, his father Barack Obama Sr., but also his former pastor Jeremiah Wright, and Bill Ayers, co-founder of the self-described communist revolutionary group Weather Underground, which was responsible for several bombings in the 1970s.
The documentary argued that Obama was influenced by anti-colonial ideology, which puts blame on the United States for poor conditions in third-world countries. D’Souza presents the argument as an explanation for a line of Obama’s decisions that led to a decrease in stature and influence of America in the world.
Obama’s 2012 campaign called the film an “insidious attempt to dishonestly smear” Obama.
The pardon will restore D’Souza’s right to vote, hold public office, possess a firearm, and sit on a jury.
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