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Trump pardons Michael Milken, face of 1980s insider financial scandals

CNBC logo CNBC 2/18/2020 Dan Mangan
Michael Milken wearing a suit and tie: Financier and philanthropist Michael Milken visits © Provided by CNBC Financier and philanthropist Michael Milken visits

President Donald Trump issued a pardon Tuesday to Michael Milken, the former junk bond king who became a face of the insider trading financial scandals of the 1980s.

Trump, in announcing the pardon, cited the “incredible job” that Milken has done supporting cancer research since pleading guilty in 1990 to racketeering and securities fraud charges.

Milken, 73, originally was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his crimes while heading the bond department at the investment bank Drexel Burnham Lambert, and fined $600 million.

But that punishment was later reduced to two years locked up after he cooperated with federal investigators.

Milken also is banned for life from working in the securities industry. It was not immediately clear Tuesday if that ban would be lifted as a result of his pardon.

That pardon, which had been considered for as long as two years, was one of 11 acts of executive clemency issued Tuesday by Trump.

The president also granted pardons to former New York City police commissioner Bernie Kerik and ex-San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr.

And Trump commuted the lengthy prison sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Milken, in a prepared statement, said that his wife Lori, with whom he “recently celebrated our 51st wedding anniversary, along with our children and grandchildren, are very grateful to the President.”

“We look forward to many more years of pursuing our efforts in medical research, education and public health,” Milken said.

Supporters of Milken’s pardon included Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and media baron Rupert Murdoch, as well as casino operator Sheldon Adelson, New England Patriots Robert Kraft, and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

Last month, the private government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a request to the Treasury Department for all communications between Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and anyone else that contain the words “pardon” or “pardoning” from January 2018 until last month.

CREW noted in its Freedom of Information Act request that several news outlets had reported that Mnuchin was advocating for a pardon for Milken, and that The New York Times had reported last year that Mnuchin flew on Milken’s private airplane from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles.

A statement issued by Trump’s press secretary Stephanie Grisham detailed the rationale for the pardon for Milken, and called him “one of America’s greatest financiers” for his pioneering of the use “the use of high-yield bonds in corporate finance.”

Grisham said in that statement that “the charges filed against Mr. Milken were truly novel.”

“In fact, one of the lead prosecutors later admitted that Mr. Milken had been charged with numerous technical offenses and regulatory violations that had never before been charged as crimes,” Grisham said.

“Since his release, Mr. Milken has dedicated his life to philanthropy, continuing charitable work that he began before his indictment,” the press secretary said.

“Over the years, Mr. Milken — either personally or through foundations he created —has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in critical funding to medical research, education, and disadvantaged children. Mr. Milken’s philanthropy has been particularly influential in the fight against prostate cancer and has been credited with saving many lives.”

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