Donald Trump’s Lawyer Pondered Pardoning Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort As Special Counsel Focused On Them
Pardons For Michael Flynn & Paul Manafort Considered
The discussions came just as special counsel Robert Mueller was building cases against both men. These talks raise questions about whether the lawyer, John Dowd, was offering pardons to influence their decisions about whether to plead guilty and cooperate in Mueller’s investigation.
The president’s lawyers may have been worried about what Manafort and Flynn might reveal if they were to strike a deal with Mueller in exchange for leniency. Not all legal experts seem to agree on whether or not such offers would constitute obstruction of justice.
Dowd’s conversation with Flynn’s lawyer Robert K. Kelner happened sometime after Dowd took over as Trump’s personal lawyer last summer. At that time, a grand jury was hearing evidence against Flynn — who left the White House in February 2017 — on a range of potential crimes.
Flynn, who was Trump’s first national security adviser, pleaded guilty in December to lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador. Flynn received favorable sentencing terms.
Dowd stated privately he did not know why Flynn had accepted a plea.
The pardon conversation with Manafort’s attorney Reginald J. Brown came before Manafort — Trump’s former campaign chairman — was indicted in October on charges of money laundering and other financial crimes. These crimes relate to Manafort’s work as a lobbyist and former consultant for Viktor F. Yanukovych, who at the time was president of Ukraine. The charges are not related to any work Manafort did for Trump. Manafort has pleaded not guilty and has told others he does not want a pardon because he believes he has done nothing wrong.
Trump’s other lawyers stated they were completely unaware of any discussions regarding potential pardons.
“Never during the course of my representation of the president have I had any discussions of pardons of any individual involved in this inquiry,” Jay Sekulow, a lawyer for Mr. Trump, told The New York Times on Wednesday.
Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer dealing with the probe, said: “I have only been asked about pardons by the press and have routinely responded on the record that no pardons are under discussion or under consideration at the White House.”
Jack Goldsmith, a former assistant attorney general in the George W. Bush administration and a professor at Harvard Law School, told The Times that the best solution to any findings that the president obstructed justice would more likely be found in elections or impeachment rather than in prosecuting Trump.
“There are few powers in the Constitution as absolute as the pardon power — it is exclusively the president’s and cannot be burdened by the courts or the legislature,” said Goldsmith. “It would be very difficult to look at the president’s motives in issuing a pardon to make an obstruction case.”
In February 2017, Trump asked then-FBI director James Comey to end his investigation into Flynn, Comey revealed. Mueller was then appointed by the Justice Department to serve as the special counsel.
On the day after Flynn pleaded guilty, Trump wrote a tweet reportedly composed by Dowd that he had fired Flynn — among other reasons — for lying to the FBI, although the president continued to defend his former national security adviser, saying two days later that he felt “very badly” for Flynn and that the FBI had “destroyed his life.”
In total, 19 people have been charged with crimes by Mueller. Five of them, including Flynn, have pleaded guilty and have agreed to cooperate with the probe.
In August, Trump pardoned Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff from Arizona who had been found guilty of federal criminal contempt for refusing to stop targeting Latinos in traffic stops and other law enforcement efforts. The pardon was controversial, as Arpaio had supported Trump’s run for president.
Trump’s only other pardon came this month, for a sailor who had pleaded guilty to illegally retaining national defense information and obstruction of justice after he took cellphone photos on a nuclear submarine and then destroyed these pictures when he learned he was under investigation.
When announcing this pardon, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump appreciated the sailor’s “service to the country.”
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