Among the headlines during my vacation was Donald Trump’s decision to commute the seven-year prison sentence of Ted Suhl for paying public officials to influence treatment of his Medicaid-dependent health services empire. Clemency was encouraged by former U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins, working for the Suhl family, and by Mike Huckabee, who as Arkansas governor was a beneficiary of Suhl largesse and is father of Trump’s former press secretary and possible candidate to emulate her father as governor of Arkansas.
Ever since, I’ve posed on Twitter, and gotten no answer to a related question: Will Bud Cummins intercede with Trump on behalf of Jeremy Hutchinson, the former senator who’s pleaded guilty to multiple federal felonies related to personal spending of campaign money, tax avoidance and taking bribes in the form of putative legal fees from another major provider of Medicaid-finance health services. And what about Sen. Jon Woods, serving a 15-year sentence for his participation in a bribery and kickback scheme related to an enormous public money scandal?
The questions seem pertinent.
Cummins has been chairman of the Hutchinson Legal Defense Fund, where he’s quoted as saying: “We rely on the right to a jury trial to provide balance and fairness to complex prosecutions, but in truth, the vast majority of those charged (95+%) plead guilty and never get a trial at all. Many of those plead guilty simply because they lack the financial resources to bear the real cost of a modern criminal defense in a complex matter. I have agreed to serve as Chairman of this legal defense fund to receive contributions from those who want to ensure that Jeremy Hutchinson has the resources to mount an adequate defense.” (CORRECTION: I originally attributed to Cummins a quote from the page that was actually a quote from defense lawyer Tim Dudley.) The fund has never disclosed contributions or expenditures, though his defense team at one point included some of the most highly paid white-collar criminal defense lawyers in Washington and New York.
The Hutchinson case has some similarities to that of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Blagojevich is serving 14 years for bribery, convicted of trading favors for campaign money. He said the contributions were political business as usual, not criminal acts (sort of like Hutchinson’s legal fees). Trump blasted the FBI’s tactics in announcing his consideration of a Blago clemency decision. Prosecutorial misconduct has been alleged by Hutchinson’s defense team and also by Jon Woods’ defense team in his pending 8th Circuit Court of Appeals case.
Woods’ bribery case is more direct — evidence of kickbacks from state money he directed to a Bible college near Springdale. But he has a distinctive resume when it comes to currying favor with Donald Trump, who apparently values loyalty above truth or other principles. Woods was the first, and for a time only, Arkansas legislator to endorse Trump’s presidential candidacy. Combine that with allegations of FBI misconduct and you have to like Woods’ chances. You may also remember that Woods and other federal inmates offered to work for Trump building his border wall.
Hutchinson has pleaded guilty and has not been sentenced. Woods’ case is on appeal. A presidential pardon or commutation in either case at this stage — against the mountain of evidence of conduct at the least sleazy — would seem a long shot by past standards. But past standards no longer apply to presidential conduct.
I asked Cummins by e-mail after I returned home about whether he has or will work for either Hutchinson or Woods with the White House. He responded:
If I were working on clemency for anybody, I wouldn’t be able to talk about it, so I have to decline to comment.
I clearly have a relationship with Jeremy and have advised him on the periphery, but I have never met or talked to Jon Woods. Don’t know him.
I know less about Woods’s case but based on what I do know I put the two cases, and the government’s approach to each, in somewhat different categories.
Speaking of unanswered questions: Many are asking why it took so long for Jeremy Hutchinson to be called to the bar of justice. The Democrat-Gazette, reporting Sunday on newly unsealed interviews with participants in the Preferred Family Healthcare scandal, detailed how the FBI was looking into Jeremy Hutchinson as early as 2013 on account of evidence provided by a former girlfriend. The probe turned up plenty of smoking indications of foul deeds, particularly in use of campaign money, but no prosecutions followed until 2018. The D-G article noted the high-level political connections in the case. Jeremy Hutchinson’s brother is an FBI agent, whom Jeremy purportedly said he’d consulted about some of the matters. Jeremy’s uncle, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, is mentioned, too, along with his former chief of staff, Michael Lamoureux, credited in the interview with an admitted conspirator as using his influence in the governor’s office to get a million-dollar grant to the health service provider. Standard boilerplate: None has been accused of a crime and all have declared innocence.
The D-G article was based on interviews by the FBI with admitted conspirators Rusty Cranford, former lobbyist and executive for Preferred Family Healthcare, and Eddie Cooper, a former legislator and employee of the firm. The U.S. attorney’s office is providing me today with the set of documents, which apparently provide more comments from Cooper and Cranford related to legislative activities with the firm. I’ll pass them along when able.