President Trump and his attorneys and senior staff have repeatedly said they are not considering firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller or pardoning anyone connected to the case, but the mainstream media cannot bring itself to accept that verdict.
On Wednesday, the New York Times reported, based on three anonymous sources it identified as “people with knowledge of the discussions,” that one of Trump’s attorneys discussed the idea of pardoning Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort with their lawyers.
According to the Times unconfirmed reporting, John Dowd, who resigned last week from Trump’s White House legal team, approached the attorneys for Flynn, who served as national security adviser for the first 18 days of the Trump administration, and Manafort, a lobbyist who served as an executive on Trump’s campaign for a brief time in 2016.
The Times further suggested that Dowd “was offering pardons to influence their decisions about whether to plead guilty and cooperate in the investigation.”
Flynn did plead guilty, although the judge in his case was taken off it shortly thereafter. The FBI has said it did not believe he was lying and courts have set aside his sentencing indefinitely.
Manafort pleaded innocent to the charges against him, which relate to lobbying activity in Russia and Ukraine years before he joined the Trump team.
“The talks suggest that Mr. Trump’s lawyers were concerned about what Mr. Flynn and Mr. Manafort might reveal were they to cut a deal with the special counsel … in exchange for leniency,” the Times wrote. “Mr. Muller’s team could investigate the prospect that Mr. Dowd made pardon offers to thwart the inquiry, although legal experts are divided about whether such offers might constitute obstruction of justice.”
Dowd and the president’s other lawyers, Jay Sekulow and Ty Cobb, all released statements saying they know of no discussion of pardons within the administration for anyone involved in this inquiry.
Beaten on the unconfirmed story, denied on the record by all his attorneys, that Trump plans to pardon Manafort and Flynn, CNN sought to document just how easy it would be if Trump were to pardon them. Turns out, all the president needs is his trusty phone and Twitter account.
“CNN has learned there was a discussion within the Department of Justice last summer, prompted by news stories speculating Trump could issue pardons via Twitter, over what would happen if he did decide to pardon anyone through social media.”
Department of Justice employees at the Office of the Pardon Attorney emailed amongst themselves about whether the president would have the power to pardon by the same method he often fires senior aides and cabinet officials – by Twitter. They concluded they would “have little if any involvement,” CNN reported, quoting Jennifer Mills, a former supervisory paralegal.
It explained, “It’s very unlikely that the DOJ Pardon Attorney’s office would play a role in any decision to issue a pardon besides creating a formal record after the fact unless Trump wanted the advice.”
Samuel Morrison, who has worked in the Pardon Attorney’s office, told CNN “Trump is right in this case. No one can tell him what to do.”
And this, he said, should set off warning bells.
“He can shut down the Russia investigation,” just as George H.W. Bush shut down the Iran-Contra investigation by pardoning all involved on the reasoning the case had devolved into a criminalization of policy differences rather than legitimate crimes – which many on the right believe to be the case with regard to the Mueller investigation.
Louis Clark, executive director of the Government Accountability Project, which represents whistleblowers, including Edward Snowden, said it could be worse.
“These documents should warn us that we are clearly headed toward an unparalleled constitutional and accountability crisis,” he said.