Trump rushes through shock pardons
Donald Trump has pardoned 15 people and commuted the sentences of a further five, including a former campaign aide jailed in the Russia probe and four military contractors convicted of killing Iraqi civilians in 2007.
The executive grants of clemency announced on Tuesday - which are common for presidents on their way out - also included several Republican politicians convicted of fraud or other charges.
Two of the pardons issued by Mr Trump were for former allies caught up in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's three-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, which ultimately found no evidence of collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
Former campaign adviser George Papadopoulous - whose conversation with Australian diplomat Alexander Downer in a London bar allegedly sparked the FBI's "Crossfire Hurricane" investigation - and lawyer Alex van der Zwaan were both charged with "process-related" crimes of making false statements to investigators, the White House said in a statement.
Papadopoulous served two weeks in prison while van der Zwaan was sentenced to 30 days.
"Today's pardon helps correct the wrong that Mueller's team inflicted on so many people," the White House said.
Mr Trump has now granted clemency to four people charged in the Mueller investigation, which itself is now the subject of a special counsel probe led by US Attorney John Durham.
Last month he pardoned former national security adviser Mike Flynn, who was also charged by the Mueller probe with lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador during the 2016 transition.
The Department of Justice had been attempting to drop its prosecution of General Flynn since May this year after an independent review ordered by Attorney-General Bill Barr uncovered prosecutorial misconduct.
In July, the President commuted the sentence of long-time ally Roger Stone, days before he was to report to federal prison for a 40-month sentence after being convicted of lying to Congress.
The pardons announced on Tuesday included former Republican Congressmen Duncan Hunter from California and Chris Collins from New York, while Steve Stockman from Texas had his sentence commuted.
Hunter was due to begin an 11-month prison sentence next month after pleading guilty to misusing campaign funds, while Collins - who was the first member of Congress to endorse Mr Trump for President - is currently serving a 26-month sentence for securities fraud and lying to the FBI.
The White House said Hunter's case "could have been handled as a civil case via the Federal Election Commission, according to former FEC Commissioner Bradley Smith".
Stockman, who is two years into a 10-year sentence for misusing charity funds, will be remain under a period of supervised release and must pay more than $US1 million in restitution.
Meanwhile, Mr Trump has pardoned four former Blackwater guards who were convicted in connection with the massacre of 17 Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square, Baghdad.
Nicholas Slatten, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard were all serving lengthy prison sentences, but supporters of the men had argued the punishment was excessive and the prosecution tainted with problems.
This is a grotesque pardon: Blackwater contractors who indiscriminately shot into an Iraqi crowd, killing 14 (2 kids):https://t.co/L3qa52NuKc.— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) December 23, 2020
Meanwhile, 2 people who exposed war crimes rather than committied them - Snowden & Assange - wait to see if Trump can find the courage https://t.co/7GBBRu5Ooy
The White House said the "pardon of these four veterans is broadly supported by the public" and a number of elected officials.
"These veterans were working in Iraq in 2007 as security contractors responsible for securing the safety of United States personnel," the White House said.
"When the convoy attempted to establish a blockade outside the 'Green Zone', the situation turned violent, which resulted in the unfortunate deaths and injuries of Iraqi civilians. Initial charges against the men were dismissed, but they were eventually tried and convicted on charges ranging from first degree murder to voluntary manslaughter."
The White House noted that the DC Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled that additional evidence should have been presented at Mr Slatten's trial.
"Further, prosecutors recently disclosed - more than 10 years after the incident - that the lead Iraqi investigator, who prosecutors relied heavily on to verify that there were no insurgent victims and to collect evidence, may have had ties to insurgent groups himself."
Brian Heberlig, a lawyer for one of the defendants, told the Associated Press that the group "didn't deserve to spend one minute in prison".
"I am overwhelmed with emotion at this fantastic news," he said.
Originally published as Trump rushes through shock pardons