Jonathan Braun had served just two and a half years of a decade-long sentence for running a massive marijuana ring, when President Trump commuted his sentence on his last day in office. A Staten Islander with a history of violent threats, Braun had told a rabbi who owed him money: “I am going to make you bleed.” Braun’s family had told confidants they were willing to spend millions of dollars to get him out of prison, reports the New York Times. Trump’s Justice Department and federal regulators, as well as New York state authorities, were probing Braun's role as a predatory lender, making what judges later found were fraudulent and usurious loans to cash-strapped small businesses. The consequences of Braun’s commutation are raising new questions about how Trump intervened in criminal justice decisions and what he could do in a second term, when he could free supporters convicted of storming the Capitol and possibly pardon himself if convicted of federal charges. Months after Trump freed him, Braun returned to working as a predatory lender, according to New York’s attorney general. Two months ago, a judge barred him from working in the industry. Later, a federal judge, at the request of the Federal Trade Commission, imposed a nationwide ban on him.
The commutation dealt a blow to an ambitious criminal investigation by the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan aimed at punishing members of the predatory lending industry who hurt small businesses. Braun and prosecutors were negotiating a deal in which he would be let out of prison in exchange for flipping on industry insiders. The commutation destroyed the government’s leverage. At multiple levels, to the president, the justice system appeared to fail more than once to take full account of Braun’s activities. After pleading guilty to drug charges in 2011, he agreed to cooperate in an investigation, allowing him to stay out of prison under supervision for nine years — a period he used to establish himself as a predatory lender, making violent threats to those who owed him money. Since returning to predatory lending, Braun is still engaging in deceptive business tactics, regulators and customers say. Working to secure his release, Braun’s family used a connection to Charles Kushner, the father of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser Kushner’s White House office drafted the language used in the news release to announce commutations for Braun and others.