Trump pardons ex-Reps. Duncan Hunter, Chris Collins

Trump also commutes sentence of former Rep. Steve Stockman

Former Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., was pardoned by President Donald Trump shortly before he was due to report to prison. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Former Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., was pardoned by President Donald Trump shortly before he was due to report to prison. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted December 22, 2020 at 8:21pm

President Donald Trump on Tuesday granted full pardons to former Reps. Duncan Hunter and Chris Collins, who both took plea agreements to avoid trials on their respective campaign finance and securities fraud charges.

The two Republicans were also among the first in Congress to endorse Trump when he ran for president.

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement announcing Trump's pardons of both former House members that they were made "at the request of many Members of Congress."

Hunter served as California's 50th District representative for three-and-a-half terms before he resigned in January. His resignation came after a lengthy ethics and eventual criminal investigation into misuse of campaign funds.

Hunter pleaded guilty last December to spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funds for his own enrichment. His illegal purchases included Lego sets, movie tickets, a $14,000 family vacation to Italy and flights for his family’s pet bunny rabbit.

In March, Hunter was sentenced to 11 months in prison. He was scheduled to report to the Federal Correctional Institute La Tuna's minimum-security satellite camp in Anthony, Texas on Jan. 4.

Trump's pardon means Hunter won't spend any time behind bars. Hunter's pardon is supported by former Federal Election Commissioner Bradley Smith, who believes the offense could have been handled as a civil case, McEnany said.

Collins, meanwhile, had already reported to prison in October to begin serving his 26-month sentence for conspiring to commit securities fraud and making false statements to the FBI.

Collins was elected to four terms representing a heavily Republican western New York district. His arrival at a minimum security federal prison camp in Pensacola, Florida, was delayed four times due to the COVID-19 pandemic following his sentencing in January.

Stockman spared

Trump also commuted the remaining prison sentence of former Texas GOP Rep. Steve Stockman, who served two nonconsecutive terms from 1995 to 1997 and 2013 to 2015.

Stockman, 64, was convicted in 2018 of 23 felony charges related to misusing charitable contributions and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Among the charges were that he paid personal credit card debt and for a friend’s stint in rehab using money meant for charitable causes like renovating a Capitol Hill home into a residence for young, conservative interns. Stockman blamed the “deep state” for his arrest.

The White House said he was being released on “humanitarian and compassionate grounds,” because he had underlying health conditions that put him at risk from the pandemic, and that he had already contracted COVID-19 while in prison.

Trump also pardoned two men convicted in connection with special counsel Robert S. Mueller’s investigation into the president’s 2016 campaign dealings with Russia.

Alex van der Zwaan, the first person sentenced in the Mueller probe, served a 30-day sentence for lying to the FBI about his communications with Rick Gates, Trump’s 2016 deputy campaign manager. His pardon was supported by former Rep. Trey Gowdy, the White House said.

George Papadopoulos, a onetime Trump foreign policy adviser, served 12 days in jail in 2018 for lying to the FBI. The White House news release called it a “process-related crime.”

A frequent Trump critic, Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell of New Jersey, called the actions "pardon abuse" in a post on Twitter.

"These goons may evade justice but our criminal president should be prosecuted next year for his crimes," Pascrell wrote.

House Democrats have proposed legislation they hope to take up next Congress that would address such abuse. The legislation would require the Justice Department to provide Congress with information about any self-serving pardons, clarify how a pardon could be a crime under the federal bribery statute and ban presidents from pardoning themselves.

Chris Marquette and Todd Ruger contributed to this report.