Donald Trump expected to pardon Lil Wayne but Julian Assange, Steve Bannon may miss out

Rapper Lil Wayne is expected to be one of up to 100 people to receive last-minute commutations or pardons before US President Donald Trump leaves office this week, but WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is likely to miss out.

Multiple US media outlets have reported that Trump is preparing an expansive list to be released on Tuesday or possibly even Wednesday (US time) – the morning of Joe Biden’s inauguration – but that the President has opted not to take the extraordinary step of issuing a pardon for himself or any members of his family.

Fox News reports a White House meeting was held on Sunday afternoon to finalise the growing list, with rapper Lil Wayne (real name Dwayne Carter) making the cut but former Trump adviser Steve Bannon being described as “TBD” (to be decided).

Lil Wayne, who supported Trump for re-election, pleaded guilty last year to illegally possessing a gold-plated handgun while travelling to Florida in a private jet in 2019, which was not allowed due to a prior felony conviction. His bag also contained cocaine, ecstasy and oxycodone.

Bannon, who was booted from the White House in 2017, was charged last year with defrauding donors to a crowd-funding campaign to build a wall between the US and Mexico. The wire fraud and money laundering charges each carry a maximum of 20 years in prison.

He pleaded not guilty was released on a $US5 million ($7m) bond ahead of a May 2021 trial date. Trump has repeatedly distanced himself from the project, tweeting last year that it was “not my wall”, but adding: “Totally unrelated, but I think Steve will be just fine.”

And despite an aggressive campaign by WikiLeaks, Fox News reports Trump is unlikely to grant a pardon to its Australian founder. Julian Assange is currently in the UK fighting US attempts to extradite him to face espionage charges, which carry a maximum of 175 years in prison.

A British court earlier this month blocked the extradition after a judge found Assange’s mental health was so fragile he posed a suicide risk if he was sent overseas. The US is appealing the decision.

According to the New York Post, it also remains unclear whether Trump will issue a pardon for mass surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden, who has been living in Russia ever since leaking troves of data on the National Security Agency’s highly secretive spying programmes.

The President last year told the newspaper he was “very strongly” looking at the possibility of a pardon for Snowden, despite describing him in a 2014 tweet as a “traitor and a disgrace”. The issue is said to be a source of fierce disagreement among Trump’s inner circle.

The New York Post reports that among the lesser-known people expected to receive clemency are several people serving long prison sentences under Biden’s 1994 crime bill, which critics of the president-elect have said unfairly punished African-Americans for drug-related offences.

At least two men serving life in prison for dealing marijuana under the law’s three-strikes provisions – Corvain Cooper and Michael Pelletier – have previously asked Trump to release them.

It comes after a report in The New York Times claimed a number of Trump’s allies were collecting huge amounts of money for access to the President from people seeking pardons, with one ex-CIA officer jailed in 2012 allegedly told by an associate of Rudy Giuliani that a presidential pardon was “going to cost $US2m ($2.8m)”.

The President has already used his final days in office to issue scores of pardons to his closest allies, including several people 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.

Last month he pardoned former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was facing seven-and-a-half years in jail after being convicted of unrelated financial crimes including tax evasion and money laundering.

Roger Stone, a long-time Trump ally who had already received a commutation of his prison sentence for lying to Congress, was also granted a pardon, along with former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos and lawyer Alex van der Zwaan – both of whom the White House said had been charged with “process-related” crimes by the Mueller investigation.

That came after Trump pardoned his 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 last year after an independent review ordered by Attorney-General Bill Barr uncovered prosecutorial misconduct.

Also among the recent controversial pardons have been several former Republican Congressmen facing prison sentences for fraud and other charges, and four former private security contractors who were convicted in connection with the massacre of 17 Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square, Baghdad, in 2007.

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