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Photo Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Donald Trump loves Wall Street shenanigans. Companies owned by him have declared bankruptcy six different times, and he was once sued alongside Mike Milken for participating in a scheme to artificially inflate junk-bond prices.

Driving the news: Trump pardoned Milken this week, with an official statement positively gushing over Milken's role in developing the wilder side of fixed-income capital markets.

  • The statement strongly implies that Milken — who was originally charged with 98 counts of racketeering, securities fraud, and other crimes — in fact committed no crimes at all.

Context: The pardon comes against a backdrop of aggressive Wall Street deregulation. Trump has defanged the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, loosened regulations on banks, and given free rein to non-bank entities like insurers, ratings agencies, and hedge funds.

  • Under Trump's regulatory and legal regime, it is very unlikely that Milken would have been charged with any crimes. Trump, after all, describes him as "one of America’s greatest financiers."
  • Many individuals close to Trump are credited in the statement with helping to obtain the pardon — including Rudy Giuliani, who led Milken's prosecution in the 1980s, and Rupert Murdoch, who used Milken's services to turbocharge the growth of News Corp.

Milken has been determined to engineer this pardon for decades, and he's finally found a president whose fondness for ultra-rich financiers makes that possible. Bloomberg's Max Abelson lists many of them, including Apollo Global Management co-founder Josh Harris, Carlyle’s David Rubenstein, and hedge fund manager John Paulson.

  • Think of the pardon as Milken calling in favors.
  • “When he walked out of prison, he was bent double under the weight of a Rolodex," said author and former banker Michael Thomas in a 2017 Bill Cohan profile of Milken. "He had a lot of due bills he could call on. He made people rich. He made them powerful."

The bottom line: Milken, convicted felon and junk-bond billionaire, is the perfect avatar for Wall Street in the age of Trump. His pardon sends a clear message: If you want to get rich through financial legerdemain, now's the time to do it.

Go deeper

Updated 7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

U.S. sounds alarm on Ukraine

Conscripts line up at a Russian railway station yesterday before departing for Army service. Photo: Sergei Malgavko/TASS via Getty Images

The Biden administration is "deeply concerned" by new intelligence — detailed for Axios and other outlets — showing Russia stepping up preparations to invade Ukraine as soon as early 2022.

Why it matters: Most of this was known from public sources and satellite imagery, but the administration is sending a stronger signal by releasing specific details from the intelligence community.

CNN fires Chris Cuomo

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for CNN

CNN said Saturday evening it has fired one of its star anchors, Chris Cuomo, following new revelations from a legal review made by the company into Cuomo's involvement in the management of his brother's sexual harassment scandal.

Why it matters: Saturday's firing speaks to how much pressure CNN was under by employees and critics to address Cuomo's behavior.

Updated 10 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Electric car prices could go up before they come down

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The secret to affordable electric vehicles is cheaper batteries. But after years of falling prices, battery costs are now headed in the wrong direction.

Why it matters: Costlier batteries could drive up the price of electric vehicles — threatening the auto industry's transition away from fossil fuels, and, in turn, society's fight against climate change.