Trump Pardons Milken, Hailing Him as Helping Create Cable, Wireless

President Donald Trump has granted a full pardon to financier Michael Milken, who came to embody the high-yield ("junk") bond/leveraged buyout excesses of 1980's Wall Street.  

Milken, who went to prison after pleading guilty to breaking securities laws, was described by the President in glowing terms, and credited with pioneering the bonds, efforts Trump said "helped create entire industries, such as wireless communications and cable television." 

"Milken channeled a total of some $26 billion into MCI, McCaw, Viacom, TCI, Time Warner, Turner, Cablevision Systems, News Corp. and other cable, telecom, wireless, publishing and entertainment companies," wrote Discovery institute senior fellow George Gilder back in 1995. "At the time, virtually none of these firms commanded substantial collateral acceptable to a bank, and thus they could have raised these billions nowhere else." 

"With an eventual $ 2.5 billion from Drexel, MCI built the first national single-mode fiber-optic network and spurred AT&T and Sprint into action to give the U.S. a global lead in the technology," wrote Gilder. "With another $ 1.2 billion, McCaw launched the first national wireless telephone system. And with $ 8 billion, TCI, Viacom, Time Warner, Cablevision Systems and Turner, followed by many other Drexel high-yield issuers, made U.S. cable television a unique national asset." 

Trump said Milken's creative financing approach also allowed for the "democratization" of finance by allowing women and minorities to access capital otherwise unavailable to them.  

Trump characterized the charges filed against Milken as allegations that his "innovative financing mechanisms" were criminal schemes, but suggested perhaps the prosecutors had been overzealous.  

"The charges filed against Mr. Milken were truly novel," he said. "In fact, one of the lead prosecutors later admitted that Mr. Milken had been charged with numerous technical offenses and regulatory violations that had never before been charged as crimes." 

Trump also suggested Milken's guilty plea was something of a self-sacrificing move "in exchange for prosecutors dropping criminal charges against his younger brother." 

Trump cited Milken's charitable contributions since serving his two-year prison term in the 1990s, as well as support for the pardon from Rupert Murdoch, Maria Bartiromo, Rudy Giuliani and Secretary of Education Elaine Chao, among many others. 

According to Steve Keating's books, Cutthroat, Milken advised Murdoch and then-MCI on an alliance to buy DBS spectrum in the mid-1990s, but had to settle a complaint about the $15 million he got since at the time (following his imprisonment and release) he was banned from securities activity.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.