President Trump Frees Ex-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick

January 20, 2021, 12:55 AM by  Allan Lengel

Kwame Kilpatrick

For the third time in less than a year, a report surfaced that ex-Detroit Kwame Kilpatrick was about to go free. The first two ended up being false.

This time was different.

Late Tuesday night, in his final hours in office, President Trump commuted Kilpatrick's 28-year prison federal sentence for corruption. The White House described the move as "strongly supported" by "prominent members of the Detroit community, Alveda King, Alice Johnson, Diamond and Silk, Pastor Paula White, Peter Karmanos, Representative Sherry Gay-Dagnogo of the Michigan House of Representatives and more than 30 faith leaders."

The statement, which comes just hours before Trump leaves office, also noted that Kilpatrick had taught public speaking classes and led a Bible study group in prison. 

Under a commutation, a person can be released from prison, but the conviction stands. A pardon, which Kilpatrick did not get, wipes clean a conviction.

The White House announcement lists 70 commuted sentences and 73 pardons, including for past presidential adviser Steve Bannon and lobbyists convicted of corruption.

Kilpatrick, 50, served as mayor from 2002-08 and was sentenced in 2013. He's at a federal prison in Oakdale, La.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan praised the decision, saying in a tweet

Kwame Kilpatrick is a person of great talent who still has much  to contribute. I know how close he is to his three sons and I could not be happier for them being together again. This is a decision President Trump got right.

After losing all his appeals in court, Kilpatrick tried through surrogates, both Republicans and Democrats, to convince Trump in the past four years to set him free. He even sent Trump a gushing letter in 2019.

"I first want to congratulate you for the overwhelming and stunning victories of your Presidential campaign, and also the unprecedented success of your first two-years in office," Kilpatrick, a lifelong Democrat, wrote. "You have shaken up the entire world ... and that is a great thing to behold."

It's unclear when Kilpatrick will be freed, and whether he'll have to quarantine when he gets out. Covid has been widespread in U.S. prisons and jails. 

Many in the legal community had argued that Kilpatrick's sentence was too harsh. Others thought it was appropriate, considering the scope of his crimes. 

Kwame Kilpatrick in happier days. (Photo: Facebook)

Detroit U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider, a Trump appointee, expressed dismay.

"My position on the disgraced former mayor of Detroit has not changed. Kwame Kilpatrick has earned every day he served in federal prison for the horrible crimes he committed against the people of Detroit," Schneider tells the Free Press. "He is a notorious and unrepentant criminal."

"Kilpatrick has served only one quarter of the sentence that was very appropriately imposed. Thankfully, under Michigan law, he cannot hold state or local public office for 20 years after his conviction."

Tim Alberta, a Michigan native who is chief political correspondent at Politico, tweets this take: "Trump’s draw to Kwame was really about their kindred corruption, two men who cheat and grift and abuse public trust without shame."

Cynicism also is shared by historian Michael Beschloss:

The move also is likely to anger former Detroit U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, a University of Michigan law professor who led the office at the time of the Kilpatrick prosecution. McQuade, an Obama appointee, is a regular commentator on MSNBC and has been a vocal critic of Trump.

Little has been said about the 21-year-sentence of Kilpatrick's buddy, Bobby Ferguson, who was convicted along with Kilpatrick in 2013. Ferguson was a city contractor. 

Kilpatrick's father Bernard Kilpatrick, a long-time political operative, who was a co-defendant in the 2013 trial, was convicted of tax crimes and sentenced to 15 months in prison. He was acquitted of more serious crimes. 

Kilpatrick's marriage to Carlita Kilpatrick appeared to have ended in 2018. But Kilpatrick publicly admitted that the marriage had already been on the rocks for 10 years after the text message scandal revealed that he was having an affair with his chief of staff, Christine Beatty. 

Here's the White House statement:


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