President Donald Trump said Thursday that he would be issuing a “full pardon” to Dinesh D’Souza, a conservative pundit who, in Trump’s words, was “treated very unfairly by our government.”
The decision sent shockwaves through the political world — D’Souza has for decades thrived as an incendiary mouthpiece for a hardline fringe faction of the American right. He was convicted in 2014 of making illegal campaign donations to a New York Republican and sentenced to five years probation, eight months in a halfway house, and a fine of $30,000.
Who is Dinesh D’Souza?
Arguably one of the most prominent right-wing commentators in recent memory. An outspoken conservative since his undergraduate days at Dartmouth College in the early 1980s, D’Souza — born in Mumbai to an Indian Catholic family — was a onetime advisor in the Ronald Reagan White House. D’Souza eventually discarded his more classically liberal conservatism for a caustic and conspiratorial strain of rhetoric.
His star in this vein rose to new heights during the Obama administration, which he cast in his political work as a diabolical anti-colonialist engine designed to cripple the United States. This was more or less the thesis of his 2012 documentary, 2016: Obama’s America, which proved immensely popular with some conservative audiences. His most recent book, 2017’s The Big Lie, attempts to articulate what he calls the “Nazi roots of the American left.”
D’Souza is 57 years old, married to Deborah Fancher and has one child.
What crimes did Dinesh D’Souza commit?
D’Souza was indicted in 2014 for violations of campaign finance laws. Authorities said that he encouraged individuals to donate $20,000 to an unnamed political candidate — later revealed to be the New York Republican Wendy Long, who was challenging Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand for her Senate seat — which exceeded the federal campaign donation cap of $5,000. D’Souza pled guilty in May 2014, but did not face prison time.
The conservative punditocracy was swift to portray D’Souza’s indictment as an exercise in political persecution. One Breitbart News story from 2015 compared his sentencing — he spent eight months in a halfway house and was required to attend counseling in lieu of jail — to Maoism.
This is not a view restricted to the fringe. On Thursday morning, after Trump announced the pardon, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas tweeted that “Dinesh was the subject of a political prosecution, brazenly targeted by the Obama administration [because] of his political views.”
“And he’s a powerful voice for freedom, systematically dismantling the lies of the Left—which is why they hate him,” Cruz wrote.