Less than five years into a 20-year sentence for a massive fraud scheme — bankrolling a Miami Beach lifestyle of luxury cars, designer clothing and high-priced escorts — Philip Esformes walked out of federal prison thanks to President Trump, who granted him clemency. Esformes’s reprieve is in peril, at the center of a collision between two administrations pushing the bounds of executive authority, reports the Washington Post. The Justice Department is seeking to retry him — a move made possible because the jury reached no verdict on six counts, including the most serious charge of conspiracy to commit health-care fraud. Because Trump’s clemency order was silent on those charges, prosecutors are able to take him back to court. At stake is whether the federal move to reprosecute the architect of one of the largest-ever health-care scams undermines Trump’s decision considered the last word on a criminal conviction.
The unusual decision to retry a clemency recipient on hung charges is another flash point in the battle between the far right, which portrays the Justice Department as part of an out-of-control “deep state” opposed to anyone associated with Trump, and law-and-order proponents defending institutions against incursions by the former president and his allies. House Republicans have held a hearing portraying the case against Esformes as a political attack, while Trump acolytes have taken to conservative airwaves and social media to denounce the Justice Department. “No prosecutor has ever tried to reverse a presidential commutation in this manner,” co-wrote Matthew Whitaker, who served as acting attorney general under Trump, in a Fox News column. Some former prosecutors say a retrial is a chance to correct a grievous mistake in which Trump bypassed long-standing protocols to grant clemency to a corrupt nursing home executive. If the Justice Department succeeds, Esformes could be sent back to prison. “It’s an opportunity for justice,” said Paul Pelletier, a former federal prosecutor for 27 years who led the agency’s fraud section before it charged Esformes. “We use the law to hold people accountable as best as we can.”