Donald Trump’s Lawyer Pondered Pardoning Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort As Special Counsel Focused On Them
A lawyer for President Donald Trump raised the prospect of pardoning two of former top advisors — Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort — with their lawyers last year.
Pardons For Michael Flynn & Paul Manafort Considered
The talks came around the same time special counsel Robert Mueller was investigating the two men. These discussions have led people to wonder whether Trump’s attorney John Dowd, was offering pardons to manipulate their decisions on whether or not they should plead guilty and cooperate with Mueller and other officials leading the probe.
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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.
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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 similar types of crimes. These charges relate to Manafort’s work as a former consultant for Viktor F. Yanukovych, then the leader of Ukraine. The charges are not related to any type of work Manafort performed 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.
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.”
The special counsel has charged 19 people with crimes thus far. Flynn and four others have pleaded guilty and have said they will cooperate with the investigation.
In August, Trump pardoned Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff from Arizona who was charged with federal criminal contempt for not obeying orders to cease racially profiling Hispanics and routinely stopping them. The pardon was controversial, as Arpaio had supported Trump during the 2016 election.
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