President Donald Trump issued a full pardon to controversial Mumbai-born conservative pundit, author, and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza, who pleaded guilty to campaign finance fraud in 2014 after being prosecuted by then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. “Will be giving a Full Pardon for Dinesh D’Souza today. He was treated very unfairly by our government,” Trump tweeted on May 31.
Trump, who signed the paperwork formally pardoning D’Souza before announcing it on Twitter, had never met or spoken with D’Souza before this week. He told reporters aboard Air Force One Thursday that he called him for the first time Wednesday night to inform him that he would be pardoning him. The two spoke for nearly three minutes, according to the President. “He almost had a heart attack,” Trump said.
Trump stated that he pardoned D’Souza — considered by many to be American’s greatest conservative troll — because “I’ve always felt he was very unfairly treated. And a lot of people did, a lot of people did. What should have been a quick minor fine, like everybody else with the election stuff…what they did to him was horrible,” he said. He said he had spoken to D’Souza “for three minutes last night…he almost had a heart attack.”
D’Souza thanked Trump, tweeting: “Obama & his stooges tried to extinguish my American dream & destroy my faith in America. Thank you @realDonaldTrump for fully restoring both.”
D’Souza pleaded guilty after his indictment for using straw donors to contribute to the campaign of Wendy Long, a friend who was challenging Kirsten Gillibrand in the U.S. Senate race in New York.
He was incarcerated for eight months in a halfway house in San Diego and given a $30,000 fine, then released on five years probation. He alleged he was unfairly targeted because of his right wing conservatism and his criticism of President Obama.
A press statement from the White House said: “Mr. D’Souza was, in the President’s opinion, a victim of selective prosecution for violations on 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.”
There was speculation that Trump’s pardon was a slap at Bharara, who the president fired after asking him to stay on as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Since then, Bharara has been one of Trump’s most stinging critics.
Bharara, in fact, tweeted that while it was Trump’s right to pardon D’Souza, “The facts are these: D’Souza intentionally broke the law, voluntarily pled guilty, apologized for his conduct & the judge found no unfairness. The career prosecutors and agents did their job. Period.”
The Washington Post reported how D’Souza, after the pardon was announced, characterized prosecutors in his case as a “team of goons” during an interview with syndicated talk show host Laura Ingraham. Earlier in May, in an opinion piece published by Fox News, D’Souza alleged that the FBI file on his case had him “red-flagged as a political conservative who made a movie critical of President Obama.”
“I knew that causing a campaign contribution to be made in the name of another was wrong and something the law forbids,” D’Souza had said at his plea hearing. “I deeply regret my conduct.”
D’Souza is a contentious figure who once accused then-President Barack Obama of adopting “the cause of anti-colonialism” from his Kenyan father in a 2010 Forbes magazine cover storywhen Obama was in office. In the piece, he referred to Obama’s father as a “philandering, inebriated African socialist, who raged against the world for denying him the realization of his anticolonial ambitions.” He also once argued that Adolf Hitler was not “anti-gay.”
“Dinesh D’Souza is an individual who, you know, has made restitution and accepted responsibility for his actions, but these are infractions and crimes that are rarely prosecuted, and many believe that he was the subject of some selective prosecution from the previous administration,” White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah said on Fox News Thursday.
“Nonetheless, he’s accepted responsibility and the President believes it’s appropriate that he receive a pardon after community service, paying a fine, and doing other things that the judge has required,” Shah said. D’Souza once called on comedienne Rosie O’Donnell to be prosecuted for violating campaign finance laws in a fashion similar to his case.
D’Souza, who first immigrated to the U.S. on a Rotary International scholarship at 17, attended Dartmouth College in New Hampshire to major in English and was the founding editor of the Dartmouth Review.
He later earned his conservative policy chops at the Heritage Foundation as editor of its flagship publication Policy Review and then as a domestic policy adviser, at 26, in the Ronald Reagan White House even before he was a U.S. citizen. He later enjoyed stints at the neo-conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute as a fellow and at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.