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President Donald Trump on Thursday pardoned Dinesh D’Souza, who was convicted of breaking campaign finance laws in 2012 by using straw donors to raise $20,000 — more than the legal limit for individuals — for his friend Wendy Long, who was running for a U.S. Senate seat. He paid a $30,000 fine, spent eight months partially confined and was nearly done with five years probation when Trump announced the pardon via tweet.
D’Souza maintained, and Trump agreed, that he was singled out for prosecution because of 2016: Obama’s America, his critical look at President Barack Obama that became the second-most-successful political documentary in history. The Hollywood Reporter spoke to D’Souza about his pardon.
When did you know the president was about to pardon you?
My wife and I had dinner with Sen. Ted Cruz about a month ago and he told me he was going to press for a pardon. Then he called me a couple weeks later and said he spoke to the president and he was very receptive. There needed to be a legal review, but he told me I should expect a call from the White House. I got that call midday yesterday and spoke to Trump for 10 minutes. He told me that it’s done and I’m tweeting it out in the morning.
What else did you two talk about?
He said I was a great voice for America, then he says: “You were screwed,” his word. He said, “These people went after you for a mere technicality. I’m going to set that right and clear your record so that you can be an even more visible voice for the country than you are now.”
Was this the first time you spoke to President Trump?
I spoke to him once before when he was a candidate, but not since he was elected.
And yesterday for 10 minutes nothing else came up beyond your pardon?
He was with [chief of staff] Gen. Kelly calling from the Oval Office, and we just spoke about when the pardon would take effect and when it would be public.
Did he explain why he thought you had been “screwed?”
He knows it was politically motivated. I don’t want to put words in his mouth because I don’t remember exactly what he said, but he said: “They went after you, and they shafted you.” Why would they do this? Obviously because I made a movie critical of Obama.
Obama cares that much about your movie?
Whenever I speak at colleges or wherever, I hear: “Well, what makes you think an important person like Obama cares about your silly movie?” And I reply that the only reason I know that is that he was attacking the movie at his own website, BarackObama.com. That’s how I know he was pissed about the movie.
But you pled guilty, so how were you shafted?
Because the punishment should fit the crime. I should receive the penalty others get. No American has been prosecuted, let alone locked up, for doing what I did. There’s a very clear record of this that my lawyer put into a legal brief a few years ago. Prosecutions occur under two conditions: When a donation is corrupt and the donor is seeking a quid pro quo from the candidate. Like a political appointment or tax break. The second time is for repeat offenders, like Rosie O’Donnell, who admits she did it five times. But for a single offense for a person with no prior record? To go after them for a felony and essentially try to destroy their life? That’s unprecedented. It’s like going 90 miles an hour on the freeway and being sentenced to five years in prison.
Are you suggesting Rosie should be prosecuted?
She’s acknowledged giving five candidates, obviously all Democrats, in five districts more money than legally allowed, so there are five district attorneys that could go after her but there’s been no indictments. In a kinder, gentler world, she shouldn’t be prosecuted. In the old days, a guy like Jimmy Carter would no more want to lock me up than George W. Bush would want to lock up Michael Moore. But there was a gangsterization of America under Obama where he’d punish dissidents. If they’re going to do it to us, then we should do it to them. That’s the only way this will stop. In a world where Dinesh is prosecuted for one violation, why isn’t Rosie prosecuted for five?
And you were at a halfway house?
It was an overnight confinement center in San Diego. It was eight months and I’ve already done that. What’s still ongoing is five years of community service and I’m on probation, so I have an officer visit me and I need permission from a judge to travel outside the country. The pardon brings all this to an end and, most importantly, clears my record. So I can vote, own a firearm, all my rights are restored.
If you had been able to vote for president, would you have voted for Trump?
In the general election, yes. But with my movie, Hillary’s America, I stayed out of the primaries and came on board after Trump became the nominee.
Did anything positive come from those eight months in partial incarceration?
Oh yes. I have a somewhat providential view of life and look at things as if they serve a purpose. I’m a better man for it, so in that sense I don’t regret it. But it’s been an ordeal and emotionally painful and financially expensive.
Anything you’d like to say to President Obama?
He’s revealed himself to be a petty, narcissistic guy. My movie didn’t just criticize him politically, it got into his life and into his head. So he unleashed his goons, in this case Eric Holder and prosecutor Preet Bharara, who tweeted today that I did voluntarily plead guilty. I tweeted back basically that you have to be naïve not to know that that’s not how the game is played. People who plead guilty voluntarily are not doing so “voluntarily.” In my case they filed a charge that carried a maximum penalty of two years and another that carries five years and said they’d drop the second charge if I pled guilty to the first. So the whole thing is a sham. They positioned it like a show trial where I broke down and confessed when actually I was bludgeoned.
And you have another movie in the works?
Yes, based on my upcoming book called Death of a Nation. I completed the book and we’re in final edits of the movie. We’ll have more to say about it later.
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