Clint Van Zandt, the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services, was among those unimpressed by Trump’s decision to pardon former financier Peter O’Neal Milken on Monday night.
“President Trump’s decision to pardon former financier Peter O’Neal is an abuse of the pardon power that falls outside the mainstream of respectable pardons,” Mr. Van Zandt said in a statement. “I call on President Trump to rescind the pardon of Peter O’Neal and vigorously prosecute him for his crimes.”
Mr. Van Zandt served as the head of the SEC’s enforcement division from 2000 to 2003. He said the Department of Justice should also look into his possible involvement in seeking the pardon.
The Clinton and Bush administrations both declined to investigate O’Neal, who pleaded guilty to helping his investment firm use bribery and money laundering to thwart the government and evade paying billions in taxes. The SEC, which has since been renamed the Department of Justice, never brought charges.
A 2005 DOJ report concluded that “the financing of Milken’s operations was facilitated by illegal drug trafficking, penny stock market manipulation, criminal mail fraud, accounting fraud, and stock fraud,” but did not make the connection to the White House.
The SEC watchdog itself did not join the call for an investigation in 2018, saying it had concluded its probe in 2016.
Milken was pardoned on Monday just days before the anniversary of his 1994 sentencing, which sparked outrage from a wide range of Americans. The Justice Department noted that Milken pleaded guilty to “voluntary conduct” in its official annual report. The department also noted that O’Neal “has fully satisfied the terms of his felony conviction by complete repayment to the government and as a condition of his release,” and that there was no political interference in the decision to pardon Milken.
A number of prominent Democratic politicians had called for the pardon. Other critics — including current Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and Democrats representing the state of California — are asking the White House to officially reconsider and get the pardon denied. Milken is the 88th recipient of the presidential pardon and the first since the start of the Obama administration.
WATCH: Pelosi on pardon: It’s “incredible” that President Trump is treating Milken like he’s Darth Vader — NBC News () February 19, 2019
Will Cohen testify under oath about Trump’s Russia efforts?
Mr. Trump again said on Twitter that he has nothing to hide, this time in response to the court proceedings against his former lawyer Michael Cohen.
In November, the New York Times reported that Mr. Cohen had pleaded guilty to two felony charges of campaign finance violations and other crimes stemming from his role in arranging the payments, via a third party, to two women who said they had affairs with Mr. Trump. In a 33-page plea agreement, Mr. Cohen claimed that he lied to Congress about the payments — which were paid just as Mr. Trump’s White House campaign was gearing up in August 2016 — in an effort to conceal the fact that the payments had been made during the campaign, rather than as part of a business transaction.
The plea agreement provides a glimpse into what was allegedly going on in the room around the time the payments were made — the hours before and after the scheduled testimony of former “Access Hollywood” host Billy Bush. In court last week, Mr. Cohen told the judge that conversations he had with Mr. Trump were the subject of the payments he made to Playboy model Karen McDougal and adult film actress Stormy Daniels. Mr. Trump later acknowledged that his lawyer made the payments in the interim after speaking with the president and his personal lawyer.
“Mr. Cohen is trying to shake me down for $35,000,000 for his lying and making up stories about me,” Mr. Trump tweeted on Monday night. “He was convicted of lying to Congress. His lawyer said ‘lie, lie, lie’ – Witch Hunt!”
He also again defended his role in the payments as legal — though his previous tweets have left little doubt that he knew about the payments, and even encouraged them.
“Money was not involved, he made it up,” Mr. Trump tweeted on Friday. “I only want the truth!”
But these sort of leaks are causing lasting damage. Today’s Observer story suggested that Mr. Cohen could be willing to testify under oath about Mr. Trump’s effort to contact Russians linked to the 2016 campaign to find