Nearly three years later, the consequences of Mr. Braun’s commutation are becoming clearer, raising new questions about how Mr. Trump intervened in criminal justice decisions and what he could do in a second term, when he would have the power to make good on his suggestions that he would free supporters convicted of storming the Capitol and possibly even to pardon himself if convicted of the federal charges he faces.
Just months after Mr. Trump freed him, Mr. Braun returned to working as a predatory lender, according to New York State’s attorney general. Two months ago, a New York state judge barred him from working in the industry. Weeks later, a federal judge, acting on a complaint from the Federal Trade Commission, imposed a nationwide ban on him.
A New York Times investigation, drawing on documents and interviews with current and former officials, and others familiar with Mr. Braun’s case, found there were even greater ramifications stemming from the commutation than previously known and revealed new details about Mr. Braun’s history and how the commutation came about.
The commutation dealt a substantial blow to an ambitious criminal investigation being led by the Justice Department’s U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan aimed at punishing members of the predatory lending industry who hurt small businesses. Mr. Braun and prosecutors were in negotiations over a cooperation deal in which he would be let out of prison in exchange for flipping on industry insiders and potentially even wearing a wire. But the commutation instantly destroyed the government’s leverage on Mr. Braun.
The investigation into the industry, and Mr. Braun’s conduct, remains open but hampered by the lack of an insider.
At multiple levels, up to the president, the justice system appeared to fail more than once to take full account of Mr. Braun’s activities. After pleading guilty to drug charges in 2011, Mr. Braun agreed to cooperate in a continuing investigation, allowing him to stay out of prison but 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, court filings show.
Since returning to predatory lending after being freed, Mr. Braun is still engaging in deceptive business tactics, regulators and customer say.
In working to secure his release, Mr. Braun’s family used a connection to Charles Kushner, the father of Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser, to try to get the matter before Mr. Trump. Jared Kushner’s White House office drafted the language used in the news release to announce commutations for Mr. Braun and others.
In a telephone interview, Mr. Braun said he did not know how his commutation came about.
“I believe God made it happen for me because I’m a good person and I was treated unfairly,” he said, adding that his supporters tried “multiple paths” to get him out of prison but he had no idea which one succeeded.
He said the 10-year sentence he received for marijuana trafficking was excessive and made him a victim of the criminal justice system. He denied any wrongdoing as a lender, and insisted that he had never talked to prosecutors about cooperating in the criminal predatory lending investigation.