Even amid the uproar over President Donald J. Trump’s freewheeling use of his pardon powers at the end of his term, one commutation stood out.
Jonathan Braun of New York had served just two and a half years of a decade-long sentence for running a massive marijuana ring, when Mr. Trump, at 12:51 a.m. on his last day in office, announced he would be freed.
Mr. Braun was, to say the least, an unusual candidate for clemency.
A Staten Islander with a history of violent threats, Mr. Braun had told a rabbi who owed him money: “I am going to make you bleed.” Mr. Braun’s family had told confidants they were willing to spend millions of dollars to get him out of prison.
At the time, Mr. Trump’s own Justice Department and federal regulators, as well as New York state authorities, were still after him for his role in an entirely separate matter: his work as a predatory lender, making what judges later found were fraudulent and usurious loans to cash-strapped small businesses.
Nearly three years later, the consequences of Mr. Braun’s commutation are becoming clearer, raising new questions about how Mr. Trump intervened in criminal justice decisions and what he could do in a second term, when he would have the power to make good on his suggestions that he would free supporters convicted of storming the Capitol and possibly even to pardon himself if convicted of the federal charges he faces.
Just months after Mr. Trump freed him, Mr. Braun returned to working as a predatory lender, according to New York State’s attorney general. Two months ago, a New York state judge barred him from working in the industry. Weeks later, a federal judge, acting on a complaint from the Federal Trade Commission, imposed a nationwide ban on him.
A New York Times investigation, drawing on documents and interviews with current and former officials, and others familiar with Mr. Braun’s case, found there were even greater ramifications stemming from the commutation than previously known and revealed new details about Mr. Braun’s history and how the commutation came about. [Continue reading…]