A lawyer for President Trump broached the idea of Mr. Trump pardoning two of his former top advisers, Michael T. Flynn and Paul Manafort, with their lawyers last year, according to three people with knowledge of the discussions.
The discussions came as the special counsel was building cases against both men, and they raise questions about whether the lawyer, John Dowd, who resigned last week, was offering pardons to influence their decisions about whether to plead guilty and cooperate in the investigation.
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, Robert S. Mueller III, in exchange for leniency. Mr. Mueller’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.
Mr. Dowd’s conversation with Mr. Flynn’s lawyer, Robert K. Kelner, occurred sometime after Mr. Dowd took over last summer as the president’s personal lawyer, at a time when a grand jury was hearing evidence against Mr. Flynn on a range of potential crimes. Mr. Flynn, who served as Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser, agreed in late November to cooperate with the special counsel’s investigation. He pleaded guilty in December to lying to the F.B.I. about his conversations with the Russian ambassador and received favorable sentencing terms.
Mr. Dowd has said privately that he did not know why Mr. Flynn had accepted a plea, according to one of the people. He said he had told Mr. Kelner that the president had long believed that the case against Mr. Flynn was flimsy and was prepared to pardon him, the person said.
The pardon discussion with Mr. Manafort’s attorney, Reginald J. Brown, came before his client was indicted in October on charges of money laundering and other financial crimes. Mr. Manafort, the former chairman of Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign, has pleaded not guilty and has told others he is not interested in a pardon because he believes he has done nothing wrong and the government overstepped its authority. Mr. Brown is no longer his lawyer.
It is unclear whether Mr. Dowd discussed the pardons with Mr. Trump before bringing them up with the other lawyers.
This is pretty much the standard legal definition of Nixonian obstruction of justice, discussing pardons with potential co-conspirators and witnesses to Trump's misdeeds. In the last couple of days we've seen a story all but proving collusion between Trump's campaign manager and Russian intelligence, and now we see all but proof of obstruction of justice.
No wonder then that the Trump regime is now laying the groundwork for firing Robert Mueller and soon.
When President Donald Trump lashed out against Robert Mueller by name earlier this month, the president’s supporters sprang into action — treating the chief Russia investigator to political campaign-style opposition research.
Within hours, the Drudge Report featured a story blaming Mueller, the special counsel leading the Justice Department’s Russia probe, for the FBI’s clumsy investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks when Mueller ran the bureau. The independent pro-Trump journalist Sara Carter posted a story charging that Mueller, as a federal prosecutor in Boston in the mid-1980s, had covered up the FBI’s dealings with the Mafia informant Whitey Bulger. Carter was soon discussing her findings in prime time with Fox News host Sean Hannity.
Meanwhile, Trump supporters on Twitter circulated video of testimony Mueller gave to Congress ahead of the 2003 Iraq War in which he endorsed the view, later proved false, that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.
To some, the barrage looked coordinated among pro-Trump allies and media outlets, a concerted effort to tarnish Mueller’s reputation as part of a political strategy to undermine, or even eventually fire, the Russia investigator.
“It looks like the beginnings of a campaign,” a source familiar with Trump’s legal strategy said. “It looks like they are trying to seed the ground. Ultimately, if the president determines he wants to fire Mueller, he’s going to want to make sure there’s ample public record that he can fall back on.”
Up until the last month or so, leaks out of the Mueller team were few and far between, especially when it came to coming indictments. Now we're getting leaks fast and hard as we've seen this week, along with the end of the House investigation into Trump/Russia and the public plan to discredit Mueller, both in response to Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner finding himself to be a major target for Mueller's probe, and subpoenas by Mueller for Trump Organization documents.
Remember that Trump considered Mueller's investigation moving into Trump's finances as crossing a red line. Mueller jumped all over that line and everything since then has been Trump reacting.
On Mueller's side, there appear to be forces trying to keep him from being fired and these leaks are now appearing regularly, particularly on issues that took place last year. I don't think it's Mueller himself, but the man's not stupid, either.
We'll see which side wins soon. Trump is going to need to play his cards before the election season heats up, if he is going to try to fire Mueller it will have to happen very soon. It's already April practically, it'll have to happen before Congress disappears for six months for recess so they can get their marching orders for the campaign trail.
Stay tuned. Things are going to start moving fast now. Trump isn't ruling out pardons either.
The White House on Wednesday refused to rule out the possibility that President Trump would issue pardons to former senior aides facing charges from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders read a statement from lawyer Ty Cobb saying that there has been no discussion or consideration of pardons “at this time.”
“There's no discussion or consideration of that at this time,” Sanders told reporters. “The president has the authority to pardon individuals, but you're asking me about a specific case in which it hasn't been discussed.”
It's not obstruction of justice when it's destruction of justice.