TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach unsuccessfully sought a governor’s pardon for a corporate campaign donor’s vice president whose crime, police said, involved threatening a cab driver by putting a gun to his head.
Kobach, a Republican and leading candidate for Kansas governor, approached then-GOP Gov. Sam Brownback’s chief counsel about clemency for Kansas City-area resident Ryan Bader in August 2017, state records show. Kobach was Bader’s attorney and initiated the pardon request three years after a state judge expunged the attempted robbery case from Bader’s record.
Kobach has built a national profile by advocating tough policies against illegal immigration and championing strong voter identification requirements that have put him at the center of multiple lawsuits. He has advised President Donald Trump and was vice chairman of Trump’s now disbanded commission on election fraud.
Bader is vice president and treasurer of TriStar Arms, his family’s Kansas City, Missouri, firearms importing and wholesaling business. It has donated a total of at least $7,000 to Kobach in the past five years, including the maximum $2,000 allowed to Kobach’s campaign for governor in December, according to campaign finance records. The company was listed among the sponsors for a Kobach fundraiser in November with Donald Trump Jr.
Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer denied Bader’s pardon request this week, along with 20 other requests. During a news conference Tuesday in Wichita, Colyer said the governor’s pardon power should be used “sparingly and with great restraint.”
Kobach is trying to unseat Colyer in the state’s Aug. 7 primary and could grant the pardon himself if he were elected governor in November. He has made fighting what he calls “the culture of corruption” in state government a central theme of his campaign.
“We denied the pardon because it involved a violent crime committed with a firearm, and those are not the types of cases in which we typically would consider a pardon,” Colyer spokesman Kendall Marr said Wednesday.
Bader did not return telephone messages left at his office seeking comment, and the attorney who handled his criminal case declined comment. Kobach was in meetings much of Wednesday and did not immediately respond to a request for an interview.
But documents providing details about Bader’s criminal case and Kobach’s advocacy of a pardon for him are contained in a governor’s office file obtained by The Associated Press through an open records request.
Bader, the attorney in his criminal case, and the prosecutor, all said in documents that Bader expected to have his right to buy a gun restored after his record was expunged, only to learn that he needed a pardon. Bader also said in an undated letter to Brownback that a pardon also would allow him to obtain a federal license to “carry on my father’s company.”
A two-page summary of the case provided by Kobach to the governor’s office to initiate the pardon request for Bader, now 35, described his crime as resulting from “a mistake of judgment in his youth,” and said he has since been “a model citizen.” The judge who expunged his record said in her July 2014 order that it was “consistent with the public welfare and good.”
Colyer inherited Bader’s pardon request from Brownback when Brownback resigned in January to take an ambassador’s post, elevating Colyer from lieutenant governor to governor. During Colyer’s news conference Tuesday, he said Kansas governors have granted only nine pardons in the past 25 years.
“It should never be done for political purposes,” Colyer said, without citing any specific case. “It should never be done for political favors.”
Documents show that Kobach sought to have the pardon granted before Brownback left office. He even provided additional documents two days before Brownback stepped down, saying in an email to Brant Laue, the governor’s chief counsel, “I will keep my cell phone close by.”
According to Kobach’s first summary of Bader’s case, Bader initially was charged in 2009 with felony aggravated robbery. He was accused of temporarily taking a cell phone from a cab driver who took him home his home in suburban Overland Park, Kansas, after a St. Patrick’s Day round of drinking in a Kansas City, Missouri, bar district.
Bader later pleaded guilty to the lesser felony charge of attempted robbery. He spent a month in jail and a year on probation, according to his formal application for clemency.
“A gubernatorial pardon would also make clear that the right to keep and bear arms is a sacred one in Kansas,” Kobach’s initial summary said. He is a vocal gun-rights supporter.
An affidavit from an Overland Park officer, based on information from other officers, said the cab driver reported that Bader failed to pay his full fare and put a gun to the cab driver’s head, threatening to kill him if he called police.
The summary provided by Kobach did not mention a gun or an alleged threat, but brief notes from a Dec. 13 telephone conversation between Brownback’s office and Kobach said the Kansas secretary of state was “fully aware” of the cab driver’s report to police.
The police affidavit was provided to the governor’s office in December by the local district attorney’s office, along with a March 2010 pre-sentencing report.
In that report, Bader is quoted as saying he had “no recollection” of events because he was intoxicated.
The cab driver — whose name is redacted — said he was so frightened by the incident that he stopped working at night or in downtown Kansas City, making him unable support his family.