There was dancing in the streets of Brooklyn on Wednesday as President Donald Trump commuted the sentence of Rabbi Sholom Rubashkin, a former supplier of kosher meat who was sentenced to an unusually long prison term of 27 years in 2010 after being convicted of fraud the year before.
Rubashkin’s slaughterhouse and meat-packing plant in Iowa was raided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in 2008, who found illegal aliens working there. Later, he was arrested on various fraud charges. Though the charges relating to hiring illegal aliens were later dropped, he was convicted of the fraud charges. The judge, Linda Reade, handed down an unusually long sentence that critics suspected had been motivated by antisemitism. Critics pressed President Barack Obama for clemency, without success.
Those efforts were renewed once Trump took office. A February letter signed by several former Attorneys General and legislators from both political parties urged President Trump to use his presidential powers to grant clemency to Rubashkin, describing his sentence as “particularly unjust and draconian … far longer than the median sentences for murder, kidnapping, sexual abuse, child pornography and numerous other offenses exponentially more serious than his.”
On Wednesday — which happened to be the eighth day of Chanukah — President Trump announced that he had granted Rubashkin clemency after serving more than eight years of his sentence. In a statement released by the White House, President Trump said:
Mr. Rubashkin is a 57-year-old father of 10 children. He previously ran the Iowa headquarters of a family business that was the country’s largest kosher meat-processing company. In 2009, he was convicted of bank fraud and sentenced thereafter to 27 years in prison. Mr. Rubashkin has now served more than 8 years of that sentence, which many have called excessive in light of its disparity with sentences imposed for similar crimes.
This action is not a Presidential pardon. It does not vacate Mr. Rubashkin’s conviction, and it leaves in place a term of supervised release and a substantial restitution obligation, which were also part of Mr. Rubashkin’s sentence.
The President’s review of Mr. Rubashkin’s case and commutation decision were based on expressions of support from Members of Congress and a broad cross-section of the legal community. A bipartisan group of more than 100 former high-ranking and distinguished Department of Justice (DOJ) officials, prosecutors, judges, and legal scholars have expressed concerns about the evidentiary proceedings in Mr. Rubashkin’s case and the severity of his sentence. Additionally, more than 30 current Members of Congress have written letters expressing support for review of Mr. Rubashkin’s case.
News of Rubashkin’s release spread rapidly in the Orthodox Jewish community, and was greeted with jubilation by the Lubavitch Chabad Hasidic community to which Rubashkin belongs. Crowds thronged the Rubashkin family home in Monsey, New York, and the Chabad headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where Rubashkin was greeted by thousands of singing and dancing supporters who carried him on their shoulder.
The celebrations that greeted Rubashkin in Monsey and Brooklyn echoed in religious communities around the world.
Yeshiva World News and other religious Jewish news sites covered the celebrations. Videos showed participants praising President Trump and proclaiming Rubashkin’s early release on Chanukah as a positive sign for the world.
In the cheering crowds, a few red “MAGA” hats could be seen among the traditional black fedoras. Speaking to the throngs at 770 in English, Yiddish, and Hebrew, Rubashkin thanked Trump effusively: “God bless him,” he said, prompting loud cheers. Rubashkin also noted Trump’s recent decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Most observers agreed that Trump had done the right thing. Alan Dershowitz tweeted: “Today Pres Trump commuted the excessively unjust sentence of Sholom Rubashkin to the 8+years he has already served. Dems & Repubs asked him to commute. He did the right thing.”
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.