WASHINGTON (JTA) — Alan Dershowitz sought a Middle East peacemaking role for former lobbyist George Nader in order to win Nader’s freedom from imprisonment on a child pornography and trafficking conviction.
The revelation came in a New York Times story exposing the extent to which Dershowitz, the constitutional lawyer and pro-Israel activist who forged close ties to the Trump administration, was involved in obtaining at least 12 of the 267 clemencies that Donald Trump issued during his presidency ending last month.
The Times presented the Dershowitz story as an example of Trump’s transactional approach to pardons and the temptation by associates to “cash in, raise their profiles, help their clients or pursue their own agendas.”
Dershowitz told The Times that some of the requests he handled were pro bono, and some he advanced because of his longstanding opposition to the “trial penalty,” when an accused person rejects a lower sentence during pretrial negotiations and then is penalized for that rejection with an especially harsh sentence. A number of cases came from a group that advocates on behalf of Jewish prisoners. Nader is not Jewish.
Nader’s case, which Dershowitz admitted was a long shot, involved reaching out to officials in the Trump administration, the United Arab Emirates and in Israel. He asked them to make representations on Nader’s behalf saying Nader would play a role in advancing the recent normalization agreement between Israel and the UAE.
Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman who formerly acted as a broker between the U.S. and various Arab countries, had for a long period had the UAE as a client.
He was sentenced last year to 10 years for child pornography and trafficking of a minor. Nader has at least two prior convictions on similar charges. According to Dershowitz’s proposal, Nader would immediately leave the United States upon his release. Reactions among officials ranged from discouraging to noncommittal and the effort fell through.
Felons sought Dershowitz’s assistance after his role in the 2017 release of Sholom Rubashkin, the kosher meatpacking plant CEO who had been convicted of bank fraud. A number of the requests were processed through the Aleph Institute, a group that advocates on behalf of Jewish prisoners.
According to The Times, Dershowitz lobbied successfully on behalf of Mark A. Shapiro and Irving Stitsky, New York real estate investors convicted in a $23 million fraud, and Eliyahu Weinstein of Lakewood, New Jersey, who was sentenced for a $200 million Ponzi scheme.
In addition, Dershowitz was paid by the family of Jonathan Braun, a drug smuggler from Staten Island, New York, whose sentence was commuted by Trump.
After The Times reported that Braun had a history of violence and threatening people, including a rabbi who borrowed money to renovate a synagogue preschool, Dershowitz said he donated the fees to charity.
Upon Braun’s release, Dershowitz told The Times that Braun pledged to “call me every Shabbos” out of gratitude.
Dershowitz also got the Trump administration in its final days to ease the sanctions on Israeli businessman Dan Gertler for corrupt practices in his diamond business in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The U.S. Treasury in 2017 named Gertler among “13 serious human rights abusers and corrupt actors.” The Biden administration is now considering reimposing the sanctions.
Trump largely ignored the traditional pardons and commutation process, in which requests are vetted by the Justice Department according to broad outlines set by a president — for instance, rolling back overly punitive drug possession convictions.
Trump instead entertained an unusually high percentage of clemency requests from friends, admirers and people who did not cooperate in investigations against his presidency. Nader cooperated with one of the investigations into the Trump campaign’s dealings with Russia, which The Times said doomed his request.
Dershowitz, a longtime pro-Israel activist, advised Trump on his Middle East policy, and also served as a lawyer for Trump during his first impeachment trial.