• Politics
    Bloomberg

    Trump Releases Blagojevich From Prison, Pardons Financier Milken

    (Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump announced a set of clemencies and pardons on Tuesday, including for former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich who was convicted of public corruption and for financier Michael Milken who was convicted of securities fraud.The commutation of the 14-year prison sentence of Blagojevich brought a surprising end to one of the highest-profile public corruption cases of the 21st century.Trump’s closest confidants had urged him to pardon Milken, the 1980s “junk bond king” who has sought for decades to reverse his conviction.Trump also pardoned former New York City police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, who was sentenced to four years in prison for failure to pay taxes and lying to White House officials. The president earlier in the day pardoned Edward DeBartolo Jr., who owned the San Francisco 49ers football team for 23 years and pleaded guilty in 1998 to failing to report an alleged extortion attempt.It’s unusual for a president to announce so many controversial clemencies and pardons at once -- especially in an election year. Many of the pardons and clemencies were backed by conservatives. For instance, the White House said Milken’s pardon was supported by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the president’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, whose office prosecuted Milken in the 1980s.Democratic CriticsTrump has relished the use of his clemency power, which is virtually unchecked by the Constitution. He has issued more than two dozen pardons and commutations since becoming president, many of which were awarded to political allies.The president sought to draw a connection between Blagojevich’s case and the federal investigation into alleged ties between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia. Trump calls that probe a “witch hunt.”Some Democrats were quick to criticize Trump’s move on Blagojevich.“Illinoisans have endured far too much corruption, and we must send a message to politicians that corrupt practices will no longer be tolerated,” Governor J.B. Pritzker said in a statement. “President Trump has abused his pardon power in inexplicable ways to reward his friends and condone corruption, and I deeply believe this pardon sends the wrong message at the wrong time.”Read More: Trump Pardons Former 49ers Team Owner Over 1998 Felony ChargeMilken served 22 months in prison before being released to a halfway house in January 1993.In announcing his pardon, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said the securities fraud conviction was based on “truly novel” charges that “had never been charged before as crimes.” She also pointed to his charitable work in the years following his conviction.Milken, 73, is worth $3.7 billion, according the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.Major Republican donors Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, as well as Fox Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch, also backed the move, according to the White House.Also among those who backed Milken’s pardon is Nelson Peltz, the chief executive officer and founding partner of Trian Fund Management LP, according to the White House. Peltz threw a fundraiser for Trump at his Florida home on Saturday that raised more than $10 million for the president’s re-election campaign.Trump’s pardon doesn’t reverse Milken’s lifetime ban on securities dealing, which would require a separate appeal to the Securities and Exchange Commission.‘Very Unfairly’Trump’s decision on Blagojevich comes almost two years after the Democratic ex-governor formally requested a commutation and sustained public appeals for mercy from his family.Trump has repeatedly criticized Blagojevich’s prison sentence and said he would consider using his clemency power to cut it short.The president told reporters in August he was “thinking very seriously about commuting his sentence” because Blagojevich was “treated very, very unfairly.” He tweeted the following day that many saw his prison sentence that “White House staff is continuing the review of this matter.”Blagojevich, 63, was convicted in 2011 of 17 charges for what federal prosecutors said was a sweeping corruption plot that included an attempt to sell former President Barack Obama’s vacated U.S. Senate seat. The governor was impeached and removed from office in January 2009, about one month after he was arrested by FBI agents at his home.Celebrity ApprenticeTrump and Blagojevich have some personal history. Before his conviction, the former governor appeared on “The Celebrity Apprentice,” a spinoff of the long-running reality television hosted by Trump.Blagojevich’s wife, Patti, has also made numerous appearances on Fox News to ask Trump to shorten her husband’s prison term. The president referred to her comments when speaking to reporters last summer about a possible commutation.“I watched his wife, on television, saying that the young girl’s father has been in jail for now seven years, and they’ve never seen him outside of an orange uniform,” Trump said. “His wife, I think, is fantastic.”While Blagojevich is a Democrat, his wife has framed clemency as a way for the president to exact revenge for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, which Trump has repeatedly decried as a “hoax.”Comey ConnectionFormer U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who prosecuted Blagojevich’s case, is friends with former FBI Director James Comey and served as his personal lawyer. Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia stemmed from a probe begun under Comey’s watch.“This same cast of characters that did this to my family are out there trying to do it to the president,” Patti Blagojevich told the Chicago Sun-Times in an April 2018 phone interview.Fitzgerald was also the special prosecutor who led the federal investigation into I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, whom Trump pardoned in 2018 for lying to federal agents probing the leak of a CIA officer’s identity. Libby was former Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff.The White House has fielded multiple requests for Blagojevich’s clemency, including from well-known Democrats like civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, who wrote a letter to Trump last summer.Fitzgerald and other former federal prosecutors who handled Blagojevich’s case issued a statement saying: “The former governor was convicted of very serious crimes. His prosecution serves as proof that elected officials who betray those they are elected to serve will be held to account.”Safavian, KerikBut House Republicans had urged him not to offer clemency to Blagojevich. A group of GOP lawmakers representing Illinois wrote Tuesday that they were “disappointed” by the president’s move, saying Blagojevich “is the face of public corruption in Illinois, and not once has he shown any remorse for his clear and documented record of egregious crimes that undermined the trust placed in him by voters.”Also Tuesday, Trump pardoned David Safavian, the former top procurement official in George W. Bush’s administration, who was sentenced to one year in prison for lying about his association with lobbyist Jack Abramoff and helping Abramoff obtain government business. Safavian was released in 2012.Grisham said Safavian “dedicated his life to criminal justice reform” since his release and supported the bipartisan First Step Act, which Trump signed into law. His pardon was backed by former White House official Mercedes Schlapp and her husband, Matt, as well as liberal activist Van Jones, who focuses on criminal justice issues.Kerik, who served as police commissioner under Giuliani, was originally given a sentence that was longer than federal guidelines called for because the judge said he was a top police official who committed crimes as part of a bid to head the federal Homeland Security Department.”‘Operatic’ Case“The guidelines don’t fully take into account the almost operatic proportions of this case,” the judge said. “When these tax laws were being violated, they were being violated not just by anyone. They were being violated by the police commissioner of New York City.”Kerik, pleaded guilty to eight counts, including having an unidentified company make $255,000 in renovations to an apartment he purchased in the Riverdale section of New York in exchange for doing business with the city.He also admitted to lying on a loan application, obstructing Internal Revenue Service laws, filing a false tax return, lying to the federal government and failing to report wages he paid to a nanny for his children.He was later charged separately in Washington with lying to the White House about the New York matter in 2004 while being considered for the top job at the U.S. Homeland Security Department. He pleaded guilty to crimes in both cases.In the case involving the former 49ers’ owner, DeBartolo never served prison time. The case began with allegations that he paid former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards $400,000 for a riverboat casino license, according to the Associated Press.DeBartolo agreed to testify against Edwards, helping him avoid a prison sentence. Edwards was charged with racketeering and conspiracy related to the granting of casino licenses. DeBartolo received two years probation and was fined $1 million.(Updates with DeBartolo in final three paragraphs.)\--With assistance from Patricia Hurtado and Shruti Date Singh.To contact the reporters on this story: Jordan Fabian in Washington at jfabian6@bloomberg.net;Josh Wingrove in Washington at jwingrove4@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Alex Wayne at awayne3@bloomberg.net, Justin Blum, Bill FariesFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Celebrity
    HuffPost

    Jack Black Drank A Pint Of Guinness And Inadvertently Sparked A ‘Photoshop Battle’

    The "Jumanji" star's frothy mustache in Dublin, Ireland, got the treatment on Reddit.

  • World
    Reuters

    Climate protesters dig up Cambridge college's lawn

    Extinction Rebellion climate protesters dug up the lawn of Trinity College, Cambridge on Monday, as part of a week-long series of demonstrations in Britain's ancient university town. The activists dug up the grass in front of the 16th-century "Great Gate", digging channels in the turf with shovels and pitchforks and planting Extinction Rebellion flags.

  • Lifestyle
    The Daily Beast

    How to Drink Vodka like a Russian

    Asked what comes to mind when they hear the words “Russian food,” people usually say borscht, vodka, and caviar. Borscht is actually Ukrainian, but vodka and caviar are indeed iconically Russian—and ideal complements to each other. The spirit’s crisp, clean profile delivers a refreshing counterpoint to the rich, buttery fish eggs. No indulgence is more Russian than a generous scoop of caviar followed by a toast—to peace, to friendship, to beautiful women—and a swallow. “Moderation in all things” is a Greek motto, not a Russian one.Vodkas vary wildly depending on their base ingredient and how each variety is crafted. The spirit can be distilled from any fermentable ingredient (even from milk, in Vermont). Although Poland has perfected the art of distilling soft-tasting vodka from potatoes, I think the finest comes from grains such as rye, barley, or wheat. Vodka’s transformative powers meant that it was originally used for medicinal purposes. Pulkheria Ivanovna, in Nikolai Gogol’s story “Old-World Landowners,” concocts variously infused spirits to cure every ill, including a vodka infused with the herb centaury to heal ringing in your ears or shingles on your face, and another with peach pits in case you’ve bumped your head against the corner of a cupboard or a table when getting out of bed and a lump’s sprung up on your forehead.Russia’s love of alcohol is not only literary but central to Russian history. The twelfth-century Tale of Bygone Years, Russia’s earliest chronicle, relates that when Grand Prince Vladimir debated which religion would best unite his new nation, he dismissed Islam in favor of Christianity, proclaiming “Drinking is the joy of Rus’. ” From the earliest times, the Russians enjoyed mead and kvass, lightly alcoholic beverages achieved through fermentation rather than distillation. They also produced fermented birch juice and beer. Distilled spirits, in the form of vodka, were introduced to Russia by the fifteenth century, either from the south, through Crimea, or from Western Europe along the Hanseatic trade routes—no one knows for sure. What we do know is that after domestic production began in the late sixteenth century, the drink—called goriachee vino (burning wine) or khlebnoe vino (grain wine)—gradually displaced the older beverages in popularity. The word vodka (a diminutive, affectionate form of “water”) didn’t come into common usage until the late nineteenth century.It’s hard to say who’s to blame for the Russian proclivity for spirits—the vodka itself, or the government. Ever since Ivan the Terrible established the first taverns in 1553, Russian rulers have vacillated between lax and strict approaches to alcohol, at times encouraging its consumption to build up the state treasury and ease public unrest, at other times curtailing access. Vodka was already causing significant social problems by the seventeenth century, but the government, which enjoyed a virtual monopoly on its commerce, was loath to curtail production and lose revenue. In the early eighteenth century, Peter the Great used vodka to political advantage, plying his court and foreign diplomats with drink as a form of intelligence gathering. He introduced drinking games, convened a Drunken Synod in mockery of the Russian Orthodox Church, and famously forced his subjects to drink vodka from the Great Eagle goblet that held one-and-a-half liters and that had to be drained on the spot.Numerous attempts at prohibition proved unsuccessful. Temperance societies were considered such a financial threat to government income that they were banned and their proselytizers exiled to Siberia. But pervasive drunkenness was an equivalent threat, and in 1914, as Russia entered World War I, Tsar Nicholas I succeeded in making Russia the first country to institute prohibition. More recently, Soviet leaders Yuri Andropov and Mikhail Gorbachev attempted to regulate access to alcohol, generating widespread discontent, especially Gorbachev’s 1988 restrictions, which led to a run on sugar, used to produce moonshine. The government compounded its problem by imposing a sugar ration, which was even more widely unpopular, since sugar was necessary for making the baked goods and preserves the Russians pride themselves on.Being old-school, I prefer my vodka not too smooth or soft, but with a bit of an afterbite. I also avoid commercially flavored vodkas, preferring to infuse my own. Good vodka should have a pleasant aroma, with no hint of ethanol or oily finish. And it should be served ice-cold. I always keep bottles in the freezer, ready for immediate consumption. Unlike a cocktail, Russian vodka isn’t meant for sipping—it’s drunk straight, downed from a shot glass in a single swig. The sensation of the icy liquid coursing through your body is quite wonderful—warming in winter, refreshing in summer.Unless it’s abused, vodka is still considered healing. Russian friends taught me their fail-proof regimen for a cold. Just before bedtime, pour yourself a generous shot of pertsovka (pepper vodka), then slather a piece of black bread with honey and top it with thinly sliced raw garlic. After eating the bread and downing the vodka, wrap a warm scarf around your neck and crawl into bed. By morning you should be cured, though no one will want to come near you since you’ll reek of garlic.* * *CHERRY VODKA* * * INGREDIENTS: * 1 (750-ml) bottle high-quality vodka * 36 fresh, sweet cherries, such as Bing DIRECTIONS:This delicate infusion capturing the flavor of summer is ideal for either a hot summer’s day or a cold winter’s night. The vodka takes on a subtle shade of pink from the infused cherry pits. Use the unused flesh to make a sweet cherry dessert, like clafoutis or cobbler.Transfer the vodka to a wide-mouth 1-quart jar, reserving the original bottle. Pit the cherries, crush the pits with a mallet or meat pounder, and drop the pits into the vodka. Close the lid and allow the vodka to infuse at room temperature for 48 hours. Strain out the pits and transfer the vodka by means of a funnel into the reserved bottle. Chill well before serving. The vodka will keep indefinitely in the freezer.Reprinted with permission from Beyond the North Wind: Russia in Recipes and Lore by Darra Goldstein, copyright © 2020. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.