After Sylvester Stallone Call, Trump Considers ‘Full Pardon’ of Long-Dead Boxer

The White House did not immediately respond to a question about the frequency with which Mr. Trump and Mr. Stallone communicate, and a spokeswoman for Mr. Stallone did not return a request for comment. But Mr. Trump seems to have long been fond of Mr. Stallone, an actor most famous for his portrayals of tough guys with machine guns and boxers with inferiority complexes.

In recent years, Mr. Stallone has attended functions at Mar-a-Lago and, like the president, he appears to enjoy signing his autograph in a thick Sharpied scrawl: “Greatest knockout in history!” he wrote to Mr. Trump shortly after the 2016 election.

The president returned the affection and considered bringing Mr. Stallone closer to Washington. Shortly after Mr. Trump was elected, Mr. Stallone said that he had declined being considered for a White House appointment to a post with the National Endowment for the Arts.


Jack Johnson became the first black heavyweight boxing champion in 1908. Other presidents have not acted on requests to pardon Mr. Johnson.

Associated Press

Mr. Trump is correct that other presidents did not act on requests to pardon Mr. Johnson, whose dominance as a boxing champion in the early 1900s elicited racial animosity. In 1910, after Mr. Johnson knocked out Jim Jeffries, a white boxer, riots broke out that led to mostly black deaths at the hands of white mobs.

Three years later, a jury convicted Mr. Johnson of transporting his white girlfriend across state lines. He served a year in prison and died in 1946.

The Justice Department does not typically consider posthumous pardons because, according to department guidelines, the time “is better spent on the pardon and commutation requests of living persons.”

But for decades, lawmakers and filmmakers — and, now, a movie star — have tried to persuade presidents to pardon Mr. Johnson. Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, and Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York, have been the most recent legislators to ask.

During nearly every term of Congress since 2004, they have introduced a resolution recommending a pardon. It passed both the House and Senate in 2009 and 2011, but just as Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton before him, President Barack Obama did not grant a pardon.

“Don’t you think this issue says something about the character of America?” Mr. McCain asked The Times in 2015.

According to the Justice Department, Mr. Trump has so far issued three presidential pardons. In August, he pardoned Joe Arpaio, the former Arizona sheriff whose hard-line approach to tamping down on illegal immigration earned him a criminal contempt conviction. In March, he pardoned Kristian Mark Saucier, a Navy submariner jailed after taking unauthorized photographs in a classified area of a submarine.

This month, Mr. Trump pardoned I. Lewis Libby Jr., known as Scooter, who was convicted in 2007 of perjury and obstruction of justice for his involvement in unmasking the identity of Valerie Plame, a C.I.A. officer.

In the time it took to write this article, Mr. Trump, who spent the week mostly ensconced at his Florida properties, had angrily returned to a pet topic: the news media. The president attacked The Washington Post, disputing its reporting that he referred to Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, as “Mr. Magoo” and his deputy, Rod J. Rosenstein, as “Mr. Peepers.”

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They Did 30 Years for Someone Else’s Crime. Then Paid for It.

Mr. Brown had had psychotic breaks in prison, which were now getting worse. His sister could not get him to take his antipsychotic medications. She said he had talked about being raped by inmates and tied to his bunk by guards. He worried that God wouldn’t forgive him. He rocked in place and refused to eat or drink for days.

The day before the administrative hearing, Mr. Megaro requested that Ms. Brown be named Leon Brown’s guardian, despite her inability to manage his mental illness or her own finances. Creditors have filed at least 16 liens against her; she has been evicted three times. Nevertheless, the guardianship was granted.

In October, North Carolina wrote Mr. Megaro a check for $1.5 million, half intended for each client, tax-free. Mr. Megaro took more than one-third of each brother’s compensation, according to Mr. Brown’s court files and Mr. McCollum. Payment on the high-interest loan took another $110,000. Each brother was left with less than half of his award.

Mr. Megaro declined to discuss his fees, the loans, the payments to the advocates or making Ms. Brown guardian.

In an April 2017 interview, he denied taking advantage of his clients.

“I like these guys,” Mr. Megaro said. “They are nice people, even if they are mentally disabled. It doesn’t matter.”

‘Fraudsters and Frivolous Spending’

Mr. Rose, who worked pro bono on the pardons, had planned to protect the brothers’ money in trusts that guaranteed fixed payments for life, about $3,000 a month each, based on the $750,000 awards.

That has been the practice in North Carolina: Exonerees keep their entire compensation. Lawyers are typically paid by taking a cut of settlements with the police.

For his part, Mr. Megaro did not set up trusts, even after admitting in court that his clients needed protection from “fraudsters and frivolous spending.” After taking his cut, Mr. Megaro distributed the remainder to Mr. McCollum and began sending money to Ms. Brown, as Leon’s guardian.

Mr. McCollum was soon broke and borrowing with Mr. Megaro’s approval. He would not discuss where the money went.

His brother’s finances, supervised by the court, have more of a paper trail. Although guardians can legally spend money only on their wards, Ms. Brown bought women’s jewelry and shoes, diapers and toys.

Motor vehicle records show she also acquired a Dodge van, 2010 Mustang, 2004 BMW and 1995 Lexus.

The court ultimately stripped her of the guardianship and cut off access to her brother’s money. At a hearing, Ms. Brown admitted she had also asked Mr. McCollum for thousands of dollars and had taken out a $25,000 high-interest loan in Leon Brown’s name, also with Mr. Megaro’s approval.

The judge found her in contempt of court and ordered her jailed.

“Why you would take advantage of a poor soul like that, I do not know,” the judge said.

Ms. Brown replied: “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

She conceded in an interview that she should have never been made guardian. When it comes to lawyers, loans and contracts, Ms. Brown said: “I’m incompetent too. I’m not going to stand here and lie.”

Last spring, Mr. Megaro filed court papers saying he had reached a settlement with the Red Springs police. Each client would be awarded $500,000.

Judge Terrence Boyle of Federal District Court announced he would not approve any settlement before determining whether Mr. McCollum was competent to sign the contract with Mr. Megaro. Judge Boyle appointed a guardian to investigate.

The guardian discovered the predatory loans. He learned Mr. Megaro had not set up a trust or estimated his clients’ future medical needs. After Mr. Megaro’s fees and loan payments, Mr. McCollum would net $178,000 and Mr. Brown $308,000 from the police settlement.

At the next hearing, Mr. Megaro angered the judge by repeatedly refusing to reveal his fees for the earlier state compensation.

When Mr. McCollum testified, his yearning for independence was palpable. He had learned to pay bills and use a computer and iPhone. He had five Facebook accounts.


Mr. McCollum, left, leaving court in March.

Jeremy Lange for The Marshall Project

He said he trusted Mr. Megaro, yet he knew little about legal matters or how Mr. Megaro entered the case.

Mr. Megaro insisted that Mr. McCollum was competent to hire his own lawyer.

Judge Boyle zeroed in on this claim when Mr. Rose took the stand: “Is it your impression that the same vulnerability that subjected him to a false confession and 31 years of death row imprisonment is now operating on his claims for recovery, that he’s subject to manipulation and control?”

Mr. Rose responded: “There’s no question in my mind, your honor, that’s true.”

After the hearing, when Mr. Rose went to shake Mr. McCollum’s hand, his client of 20 years turned and walked away.

At the next hearing, Judge Boyle declared that the brothers were incompetent and that their contracts with Mr. Megaro were void.

The judge said he would approve the police settlement, $500,000 for each brother, and would determine Mr. Megaro’s fees. Court-appointed guardians would put the money in trust and the brothers would not be obliged to repay their loans out of the settlement.

Mr. Megaro agreed to the terms but the case is far from over. The State Bureau of Investigation and the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office still face lawsuits.

Mr. McCollum lives in Virginia with his fiancé. On Monday, a judge there appointed a guardian to protect Mr. McCollum’s finances and recover any misappropriated money.

Mr. Brown lives in a North Carolina group home, where his sister visits regularly and sometimes takes him home on weekends. In a phone call, Mr. Brown said he didn’t belong in a group home. “A judge put me here,” he said. “I want my freedom.”

As for Ms. Pointer and Ms. Weekes, they said they were still owed $75,000 from the state compensation and may sue Mr. Megaro. Asked if she had any regrets, Ms. Pointer said she was offended by the question.

“We came into this with pure hearts to help two brothers who had suffered,” she said.

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Trump’s Lawyer Raised Prospect of Pardons for Flynn and Manafort as Special Counsel Closed In

The pardon discussion with Mr. Manafort’s attorney, Reginald J. Brown, came before his client was indicted in October on charges of money laundering and other financial crimes. Mr. Manafort, the former chairman of Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign, has pleaded not guilty and has told others he is not interested in a pardon because he believes he has done nothing wrong and the government overstepped its authority. Mr. Brown is no longer his lawyer.

It is unclear whether Mr. Dowd discussed the pardons with Mr. Trump before bringing them up with the other lawyers.

Mr. Dowd, who was hired last year to defend the president during the Mueller inquiry, took the lead in dealing directly with Mr. Flynn’s and Mr. Manafort’s lawyers, according to two people familiar with how the legal team operated.

He denied on Wednesday that he discussed pardons with lawyers for the president’s former advisers.

“There were no discussions. Period,” Mr. Dowd said. “As far as I know, no discussions.”

Contacted repeatedly over several weeks, the president’s lawyers representing him in the special counsel’s investigation maintained that they knew of no discussions of possible pardons.

“Never during the course of my representation of the president have I had any discussions of pardons of any individual involved in this inquiry,” Jay Sekulow, a lawyer for Mr. Trump, said on Wednesday.

Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer dealing with the investigation, added, “I have only been asked about pardons by the press and have routinely responded on the record that no pardons are under discussion or under consideration at the White House.”

Mr. Kelner and Mr. Brown declined to comment.

During interviews with Mr. Mueller’s investigators in recent months, current and former administration officials have recounted conversations they had with the president about potential pardons for former aides under investigation by the special counsel, according to two people briefed on the interviews.

In one meeting with lawyers from the White House Counsel’s Office last year, Mr. Trump asked about the extent of his pardon power, according to a person briefed on the conversation. The lawyers explained that the president’s powers were broad, the person said. And in other meetings with senior advisers, the president raised the prospect of pardoning Mr. Flynn, according to two people present.

Legal experts are divided about whether a pardon offer, even if given in exchange for continued loyalty, can be considered obstruction of justice. Presidents have constitutional authority to pardon people who face or were convicted of federal charges.

But even if a pardon were ultimately aimed at hindering an investigation, it might still pass legal muster, said Jack Goldsmith, a former assistant attorney general in the George W. Bush administration and a professor at Harvard Law School.

“There are few powers in the Constitution as absolute as the pardon power — it is exclusively the president’s and cannot be burdened by the courts or the legislature,” he said. “It would be very difficult to look at the president’s motives in issuing a pardon to make an obstruction case.”

The remedy for such interference would more likely be found in elections or impeachment than in prosecuting the president, Mr. Goldsmith added.

But pardon power is not unlimited, said Samuel W. Buell, a professor of law at Duke University.

“The framers did not create the power to pardon as a way for the president to protect himself and his associates” from being prosecuted for their own criminal behavior, he said.

Under Mr. Buell’s interpretation, Mr. Dowd’s efforts could be used against the president in an obstruction case if prosecutors want to demonstrate that it was part of larger conspiracy to impede the special counsel investigation.

Mr. Dowd is said to believe that the president has nearly unlimited pardon authority, but he and others have repeatedly insisted that no pardon offers have been made.


A lawyer for Paul Manafort was broached about a possible presidential pardon before his client was indicted in October on charges of money laundering and other financial crimes.

Al Drago for The New York Times

In July, amid reports that Mr. Trump was considering granting pardons to his associates under investigation, Mr. Dowd told BuzzFeed that “there is nothing going on on pardons, research — nothing.”

And about two weeks after Mr. Flynn’s guilty plea, Mr. Trump said that such talk was premature.

“I don’t want to talk about pardons for Michael Flynn yet,” Mr. Trump told reporters on Dec. 15 on the South Lawn of the White House. “We’ll see what happens. Let’s see. I can say this: When you look at what’s gone on with the F.B.I. and with the Justice Department, people are very, very angry.”

Mr. Trump has been preoccupied with the investigation into Mr. Flynn since at least early last year. In February 2017, alone in the Oval Office with the F.B.I. director at the time, James B. Comey, the president asked him to end the investigation, Mr. Comey told lawmakers. After that episode became public, Mr. Mueller was appointed by the Justice Department to be the special counsel.

On the day after Mr. Flynn pleaded guilty, the president wrote in a Twitter post said to be composed by Mr. Dowd that he fired Mr. Flynn for, among other things, lying to the F.B.I. But Mr. Trump continued to publicly defend his former national security adviser, saying two days later that he felt “very badly” for Mr. Flynn and that the F.B.I. had “destroyed his life.”

It is not clear what Mr. Flynn has told the special counsel as part of his cooperation agreement. During interviews with other witnesses, Mr. Mueller’s investigators have focused on what Mr. Flynn told the president about his calls during the transition with the Russian ambassador to the United States at the time, Sergey I. Kislyak. The calls came soon after the Obama administration announced new sanctions on Russia for its role in disrupting the 2016 presidential campaign.

Mr. Manafort, who ran Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign for several months, has been indicted on dozens of counts of money laundering and other financial crimes connected to his work as a lobbyist and former consultant for Viktor F. Yanukovych, who at the time was president of Ukraine. The charges are not connected to any work that Mr. Manafort did for Mr. Trump.

Rick Gates, who was Mr. Manafort’s business partner for years and also served as deputy chairman of the Trump presidential campaign, pleaded guilty last month as part of a cooperation agreement with Mr. Mueller’s team. On the day the plea agreement was announced, Mr. Manafort vowed to continue to fight the charges against him.

In total, 19 people have been charged with crimes by Mr. Mueller. Five of them, including Mr. Flynn and two other Trump associates, have pleaded guilty and have agreed to cooperate.

In August, Mr. Trump pardoned Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff from Arizona who had been found guilty of federal criminal contempt for refusing to stop targeting Latinos in traffic stops and other law enforcement efforts. The pardon prompted an outcry because Mr. Arpaio, whose crackdown on illegal immigration made him a national symbol for both conservatives and liberals, had supported Mr. Trump’s run for president.

Mr. Trump’s only other pardon came this month, for a sailor who had pleaded guilty to unlawfully retaining national defense information and obstruction of justice after he took cellphone photos on a nuclear submarine and then destroyed the photos when he learned he was under investigation.

When announcing the pardon, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said that Mr. Trump appreciated the sailor’s “service to the country.”

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