US President Donald Trump today pardoned 15 people, including Republican allies, a 2016 campaign official ensnared in the Russia probe and former government contractors convicted of killing and injuring civilians in a 2007 massacre in Baghdad.
Trump also commuted the sentences of five others. While it is not unusual for presidents to grant clemency on their way out the door, Trump has made clear that he has no qualms about intervening in the cases of friends and allies whom he believes have been treated unfairly.
Despite speculation, though, not on the list were members of Trump's own family, his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and the president himself.
His actions in his final weeks in office show a president who is wielding his executive power to reward loyalists and others who he believes have been wronged by a legal system he sees as biased against him and his allies.
The pardons included former Republican lawmakers Duncan Hunter of California and Chris Collins of New York.
Collins, the first member of Congress to endorse Trump to be president, was sentenced to two years and two months in federal prison after admitting he helped his son and others dodge US$800,000 in stock market losses when he learned that a drug trial by a small pharmaceutical company had failed.
Hunter, a member of the House since 2008, was sentenced to 11 months in prison after pleading guilty to stealing campaign funds and spending the money on everything from outings with friends to his daughter's birthday party.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the pardons for Hunter and Collins were granted after "the request of many members of Congress".
Trump also announced a pardon for George Papadopoulos, his 2016 campaign adviser whose conversation unwittingly helped trigger the Russia investigation that shadowed Trump's presidency for nearly two years.
By pardoning Papadopoulos, Trump once again took aim at special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe and is part of a broader effort by Trump to undo the results of the investigation that yielded criminal charges against a half-dozen associates.
Last month, Trump pardoned former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who had twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, and months earlier commuted the sentence of another associate, Roger Stone, days before he was to report to prison.
In the group announced were four former government contractors convicted in a 2007 massacre in Baghdad that left more a dozen Iraqi civilians dead and caused an international uproar over the use of private security guards in a war zone.
Supporters of Nicholas Slatten, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard, the former contractors at Blackwater Worldwide, had lobbied for pardons, arguing that the men had been excessively punished in an investigation and prosecution they said was tainted by problems and withheld exculpatory evidence.
All four were serving lengthy prison sentences.
The pardons, issued in the final days of Trump's single term, reflect Trump's apparent willingness to give the benefit of doubt to American servicemembers and contractors when it comes to acts of violence in warzones against civilians.
Last November, he pardoned a former US Army commando who was set to stand trial next year in the killing of a suspected Afghan bombmaker and a former Army lieutenant convicted of murder for ordering his men to fire upon three Afghans.
The Blackwater case has taken a complicated path since the killings at Baghdad's Nisoor Square in September 2007, when the men, former veterans working as contractors for the State Department, opened fire at the crowded traffic circle.
Prosecutors asserted the heavily armed Blackwater convoy launched an unprovoked attack using sniper fire, machine guns and grenade launchers. Defence lawyers argued their clients returned fire after being ambushed by Iraqi insurgents.
They were convicted in 2014 after a months-long trial in Washington's federal court, and each man defiantly asserted his innocence at a sentencing hearing the following year.
"I feel utterly betrayed by the same government I served honourably," Slough told the court in a hearing packed by nearly 100 friends and relatives of the guards.
Slough and two others, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard, were sentenced to 30 years in prison, though after a federal appeals court ordered them to be re-sentenced, they were each given substantially shorter punishments. A fourth, Nicholas Slatten, whom prosecutors blamed for igniting the firefight, was sentenced to life in prison.
Joe Biden, speaking in Baghdad in 2010 as the vice president, expressed his "personal regret" for the shootings.
The pardons drew criticism from top Democrats. Representative Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said the President was abusing his power.
"Trump is doling out pardons, not on the basis of repentance, restitution or the interests of justice, but to reward his friends and political allies, to protect those who lie to cover up him, to shelter those guilty of killing civilians, and to undermine an investigation that uncovered massive wrongdoing," Schiff said.
Trump has granted about 2 per cent of requested pardons in his single term in office — just 27 before today's announcement. By comparison, Barack Obama granted 212 or 6 per cent, and George W Bush granted about 7 per cent, or 189.
George HW Bush, another one-term president, granted 10 per cent of requests.