The New York Times is reporting on Wednesday that prior to leaving Donald Trump’s legal team, former head lawyer John Dowd offered pardons to both Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and to Paul Manafort through their respective lawyers.
Pardons could of course only come from the president for federal charges; state charges can’t be pardoned by the president, and would likely be the avenue that Mueller pursued for both men if he thought that pardons were forthcoming from the president.
More importantly, however, the offer is perhaps an indicator that Trump and his legal team were far too worried about what either Flynn or Manafort might say if they were somehow convinced to cooperate with the Mueller investigation or even testify against Trump. Flynn has pleaded guilty, while Manafort still denies all charges, and has even demanded that the charges against him be dropped by the court because, as he argues, Mueller doesn’t have the standing to even investigate his actions before the Trump campaign for the presidency began.
He’s mistaken on that point — the mandate given to Robert Mueller by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein specifically includes “any matters arising directly or indirectly” from the investigation into the Russian interference in the 2016 election that has now been confirmed by essentially every intelligence agency in the world.
If it turns out that Dowd extended the offer as an incentive for Manafort and Flynn to keep their mouths shut and risk a prison sentence that Donald Trump would later commute or pardon, new obstruction of justice charges could be coming any minute, to go along with Trump’s admission that he fired James Comey because he didn’t want the FBI’s Russia investigation to continue.
Already, Team Trump is distancing themselves from this report, with even Dowd claiming that these discussions did not take place, saying “As far as I know, no discussions.”
Even if Dowd is found to be lying about this denial, odds are high that Trump himself could be insulated from the accusation by simply claiming that Dowd never discussed the potential arrangements for a pardon for each man with him.
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