Donald Trump has pardoned Conrad Black, a former media mogul who was convicted in 2007 of fraud and obstruction of justice and spent three-and-a-half years in prison.
According to the U.S. president, who rang the 74-year-old former Daily Telegraph owner, it was to “expunge the bad rap you got.”
But the more skeptical among you may wonder if there’s a deeper story.
Black is a huge fan of the U.S. president, who has written countless articles praising him, and even a book titled Donald J. Trump: A President Like No Other.
There’s also this 2015 tweet from Trump, saying a Black-authored piece titled “Trump Is The Good Guy” was written by “one of the truly great intellects and my friend”.
It ends: “I won’t forget!”
Just over three years on and the now-president appears to have kept his word. So is it simply a case of one powerful friend helping another?
Let’s take a look…
Who is Conrad Black?
Black is a Canadian-born British citizen and former proprietor of the Daily Telegraph, as well as a number of other world newspapers.
He was ennobled as Lord Black of Crossharbour in 2001, having renounced his Canadian citizenship to become a Conservative peer, reports the Press Association.
How did he end up in prison?
His downfall came in 2007 when jurors in Chicago found him and other Hollinger International executives swindled shareholders out of more than US$6 million ($8.1 million) of their money.
The prosecution said the money came mainly from the sale of hundreds of Hollinger-owned U.S. and Canadian regional newspapers between 1998 and 2001, in which the buyers paid large sums in return for agreements that Hollinger would not compete with the new owners.
Two of his three fraud convictions were later voided, and his sentence was shortened. He was released from a Florida prison in May 2012 and deported from the U.S.
So he definitely broke the law?
According to the U.S. legal system, yes.
Black disagrees. Speaking to John Humphrys on BBC’s Radio 4 Today program on Thursday, he said: “The idea that I would commit a crime is just nonsense.
“[The White House legal team] concluded, and they authorised me to say this, it was an unjust verdict, a bad rap and I should never have been charged, all of which was true.
“The whole thing was a complete sham, from A to Z, and the president has recognised that.”
So why the backlash?
A number of commentators on social media criticised the pardon, with one legal analyst calling it “as pathetic as it is transparent.”
Why? Well, remember earlier when we said Black is a huge fan of Trump? Well, there’s even more where that came from, such as this article published this week.
And then there’s the Charlottesville thing. After the violence in the city in 2017 that culminated in a self-described white supremacist running over and killing a young woman called Heather Heyer, Black wrote a piece titled “Who Was Really at Fault in Charlottesville?”
It begins: “Almost everything about the Charlottesville riot was disgraceful except the conduct of the president.”
As a reminder, Trump drew worldwide condemnation when he praised “very fine people on both sides” of the violence even though one side chanted “Jews will not replace us” as they marched through the town.
The demonstrations, which began with people protesting the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue, culminated in a self-described white supremacist running over and killing a young woman named Heather Heyer.
OK, but surely Trump wouldn’t pardon someone just because they’re friends?
The official White House statement announcing the pardon, reads: “Lord Black’s case has attracted broad support from many high-profile individuals who have vigorously vouched for his exceptional character.” It said Black had made “tremendous contributions to business,” had written books on history and served as a tutor while in prison.
“In light of these facts, Mr. Black is entirely deserving of this Grant of Executive Clemency.”
Trump knew it would be controversial. Black told the Today program: “The president phoned me Monday of last week and said he was going to give me a full pardon and that there would be a good deal of sniggering.”
So there you go – if you want a pardon from Trump then you’d better be “entirely deserving.” And writing a few glowing columns surely couldn’t hurt either.
And seeing as you read this far…
Here’s Black being utterly destroyed on a British TV show a few years ago…