The unexpected pardon of Jonathan Braun by former President Donald Trump has disrupted a Department of Justice investigation into predatory lending, according to a report from The New York Times.
Braun had served only a quarter of his ten-year sentence for running a large marijuana operation and was under investigation for predatory lending and violent threats against victims at the time of his commutation. The Trump pardon is said to have “destroyed” negotiations between Braun and prosecutors over a cooperation deal, potentially providing evidence against individuals involved in predatory lending.
The commutation dealt a significant blow to an ambitious criminal investigation led by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, targeting members of the predatory lending industry harming small businesses. Braun and prosecutors were working on a cooperation agreement, where he would be released in exchange for providing information about industry insiders, possibly even wearing a wire. The sudden commutation removed the government’s leverage in negotiations.
Questions have emerged regarding the involvement of Jared Kushner and his father, Charles Kushner, in steering the pardon proposal to Trump. Braun’s family reportedly used a connection to Charles Kushner to bring the matter to Trump. Jared Kushner’s White House office drafted the language for the commutation announcement. Despite Braun admitting to never meeting Jared Kushner, the pardon highlights issues at the Trump White House, including the lack of rigorous vetting of applications and the sidelining of the Justice Department, according to former administration officials.
Manhattan prosecutors engaged in cooperation negotiations with Braun were reportedly not consulted, raising concerns about the lack of vetting. Former Attorney General Bill Barr expressed his complaints about pardons being granted without any vetting by the department. Jared Kushner and Jacob Braun, Jonathan Braun’s father, declined to comment on the story. Charles Kushner, who served two years in jail on a felony conviction and received a Trump pardon, hung up when asked for comment.