Why Sheldon Silver Did Not Receive Clemency from President Trump

Ellen Cans for The Jewish Voice

January 30, 2021

Originally published in The Jewish Voice on January 30, 2021.

During his last days as President, Donald Trump planned to gain clemency for Sheldon Silver, NYS Assembly speaker for some 21 years.  As reported by Newsday, Trump personally knew Silver and worked with him for decades on legislation dealing with Trump’s Manhattan construction plans, as well as efforts to get the state to approve casinos in NYS.

The Democrat and former power broker was sentenced to 6.5 years of prison in 2018 for corruption charges.   Now, 76, fighting prostate cancer and with over 3 years of the sentence remaining, Silver was on Trump’s list for Clemency, but did not receive it.

As per the NY Times, Trump had spent days with his advisers, including his son-in-law Jared Kushner, deliberating on a list people who would receive clemency from the President.  The Kushner family had also reportedly worked with Silver.  Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), a former federal prosecutor who led the effort to remove Silver from the Assembly, said that he had information that Jared Kushner was “running the operation” to obtain clemency for Silver.  Supporters for Sheldon’s pardon also included numerous Democrats including former Assemb. Harvey Weisenberg of Long Beach, who had worked in Albany with Silver for decades.

As per Newsday, on Jan. 19, a White House official from Trump’s administration had contacted Silver’s wife, Rosa, telling her that her husband’s name was on the list and she should be ready to pick him up at the Otisville Federal Correctional Institution in Orange County as early as the next day, Weisenberg and another Assembly member said.  By the next morning, Jan. 20th, however, Silver’s hopes for clemency were shattered.

“It was heartbreaking for the family, who was led to believe that this was going to work out,” a person close to the Silver family said. “An attorney had gotten a call … I do believe it went up to the president, all the way to the president.” The source did not identify the official who made the call, but said, “we just refer to it as the White House.”

During the two days that Silver’s name was on the official list for clemency, a political battle went on behind the scenes in Washington and NY, with Sheldon’s Republican opponents openly expressing their disapproval.  Many of the opponents had close ties with Trump and were quick to call the former president to express their outrage.

“This whole thing is like a nightmare,” said Weisenberg. “It’s a potential death sentence.”  “This is what happens when politics takes over government,” Weisenberg added.