On his last day in office (Tuesday), President Donald Trump pardoned 143 people, including the man who saved his failing presidential campaign in August 2016, former executive chairman of Breitbart News Steve Bannon, rapper Lil Wayne, former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, former Congressmen Rick Renzi of Arizona and Randall Cunningham of California, former Google executive Anthony Levandowski, the list goes on and on and on. Trump has to be the most forgiving person ever to have served as President of these United States.
But he didn’t pardon Sheldon (Shelly) Silver, the former Democratic speaker of the New York State Assembly, who once was considered the most powerful Democrat in NY State, and even the most powerful Jewish politician in America—certainly the most powerful Orthodox Jewish politician, and the breadwinner for the good people of all color on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, who was convicted on charges of corruption.
According to several newspapers on Wednesday morning, including the Washington Post—so it has to be true—the final list of presidential pardons did not include Sheldon Silver.
The New York GOP tweeted Tuesday morning: “Make no mistake, disgraced former NYS Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver deserves no clemency or pardon. Silver deserves to actually serve the jail time that he was sentenced for selling the incredible power he yielded to enrich himself. He was a corrupt and dishonest politician.”
Make no mistake, disgraced former NYS Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver deserves no clemency or pardon. Silver deserves to actually serve the jail time that he was sentenced for selling the incredible power he yielded to enrich himself. He was a corrupt and dishonest politician.
— New York GOP (@NewYorkGOP) January 19, 2021
There was another, deeper reason for that tweet: Silver was the first Democrat in recent memory to wipe out Republican power in NY City and large parts of NY State. He brought home the (kosher) bacon regardless of whether the Republicans approved it or not, he didn’t need them, and they hated him for it.
Silver was also hated by the NY Post, which continues to be wounded to this day by the fact that Silver starved them of his campaign advertising money – while buying lavishly from their competitor, the NY Daily News. The NY Times didn’t like Silver because they saw him as a corrupt politician and a threat to good government (sure, he was corrupt, it’s NY State, for heaven’s sake); but for the Post, Silver was the powerful liberal they’d grown to loathe.
Silver was tried on seven corruption charges in November 2015, and a unanimous jury found him guilty on all seven charges. He was expelled from the Assembly, where he had reigned as Speaker since 1994. A federal judge sentenced him to 12 years in prison (two concurrent sentences of 10 and 12 years) and ordered him to pay $5.3 million in ill-gotten gains and $1.75 million in fines. Silver appealed and his conviction was overturned by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan in July 2017. He was then retried on the same charges, and in May 2018 was once again found guilty on all counts. In July 2018, he was sentenced to “only” seven years in prison because of his advancing age. He appealed again, and in January 2020, a panel of federal judges unanimously dismissed three of the charges but upheld the four charges. Silver was resentenced to 6 1⁄2 years in prison and a fine of $1 million. He began serving his sentence in August 2020, at age 76, in the federal prison at Otisville, New York.
But while it’s easy to understand why the NY Post is happy to see Trump not saving Shelly Silver’s hide, and why the NY Times should be satisfied, it’s not as easy to figure out New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who went out of his way to besmirch the very notion that Silver should catch a break (I mean, Trump was considering a pardon for Joe Exotic, the star of Netflix’s reality show Tiger King).
In an interview with WAMC radio on Tuesday, Cuomo said about Trump: “It’s almost as if he’s trying to purposely create anarchy and desecrate the entire system on the way out the door,” then added, “I don’t even search for a rationale. You’re assuming a rationale. I don’t believe there’s always logic. I don’t know that it’s that premeditated. It could just be a favor for some contact, a favor for someone in the Jewish community, a favor for a donor. Who knows what it is? He does not need a logical explanation for his actions.”
That part is difficult to digest, frankly. Presidents have always pardoned large numbers of individuals on their last day in office, and by definition, those pardons did not usually go to sweet candy lady volunteers in hospitals; they went to people who had committed crimes. How would allowing a 76-year-old man to spend the rest of his life with his family, broke and disgraced, be considered a desecration of “the entire system?”
And the “favor for someone in the Jewish community” comment is pretty nasty, too, with a touch of anti-Semitic flavor. Just to remind you, on January 20, 2001, his last day in office, former President Bill Clinton pardoned 450 individuals, give or take, including Jewish financier Marc Rich who fled to Switzerland to evade federal charges of tax evasion and of making oil deals with Iran during the Iran hostage crisis; former Democratic Congressman from Illinois Dan Rostenkowski who had been convicted for his role in the Congressional Post Office scandal; and a couple of Satmar Chassidim who were linked to donations to Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaign.
Bill Clinton underwent an inquiry, but not because anyone said he was desecrating the entire system, only because it looked like the president-to-go was selling those pardons at a premium.
There’s more: Andrew Cuomo served as governor for four years alongside Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. You can’t pass laws in NY State without the Speaker on your side. They broke bread together and stole horses together. How do I know this? The Moreland Commission.
In July 2014, the Moreland Commission, established by Cuomo to root out corruption in politics, was ordered to stay away from investigations that could do more harm than good to the governor and the Democratic party. Eventually, Cuomo shut down the whole thing. There was a federal inquiry (thank God there was a Democrat in the White House at the time) which concluded that there was “insufficient evidence to prove a federal crime.”
Cuomo could just keep his mouth shut and let the chips fall where they may on the Trump pardon of Shelly Silver. How I wish he had.