Non-profit Associated With Hasidic Movement Pushed for Trump Pardons, Report Says

Aleph Institute advanced at least five of Trump’s pardons, including for one of the group's donors, New York Times reports ■ NGO says almost all the people it works with are destitute

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
Haaretz's U.S. correspondent
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U.S. President Donald Trump waves as he boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, U.S., December 23, 2020.
U.S. President Donald Trump waves as he boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, U.S., December 23, 2020. Credit: REUTERS/Tom Brenner
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
Haaretz's U.S. correspondent

WASHINGTON – The Aleph Institute, a non-profit affiliated with the Chabad Lubavitch Hasidic movement, has played an outsized role in President Donald Trump’s pardons and commutations, including several announced in recent days, according to a New York Times report.

According to the newspaper, the Aleph Institute, which is focused on advancing prisoners’ rights, has pushed at least five of the 24 pardons, including three announced earlier this week and the 2017 commutation of kosher meat tycoon Sholom Rubashkin’s sentence.

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Aleph reportedly pushed for clemency for Philip Esformes, who was charged in a $1.3 billion health care fraud case. According to the report, Esformes’ family donated $65,000 to the group over several years following his 2016 indictment. The Esformes family has also donated money for years to Chabad, and has a Chabad-associated school bearing its name in Chicago.

The New York Times quoted Alan Dershowitz, who has close ties to the Trump White House and volunteers with Aleph, as saying that the group “played a significant role” in Esformes’s clemency bid. Dershowitz told the Times that the White House counsel’s office has worked closely with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, to vet clemency applications, saying that “the counsel’s office relies heavily on the credibility of Aleph, and they prove credible repeatedly.”

Another lobbyist hired by the Aleph Institute was Brett Tolman [], a former U.S. attorney from Utah who reportedly advised Kushner on the Trump administration’s criminal justice reform moves. Tolman was specifically cited by the White House in the pardon of Charles Kushner, Jared’s father. Kushner and his family have their own deep ties to Chabad, donating $264,500 to Chabad-associated institutions and projects between 2003 and 2013. 

Philip Esformes arrives at a gala held at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza, August 7, 2015, in Los Angeles. Credit: Rob Latour/Invision/AP

Dershowitz told the Times that donations to the group were not a factor in deciding who receives clemency. “The people who make those decisions are completely independent,” he said. “I can tell you categorically that Aleph is supporting people who A, are not Jewish, and B, who have made no contributions whatsoever.”

“Aleph has worked with more than 35,000 inmates and their families since its inception,” Rabbi Sholom D. Lipskar, the group’s founder, said in a statement to the Times. “Almost all of the people Aleph works with are destitute, and the same is true for almost all the clemency cases.”